White House tries to assure Congress over withheld money

Russell Vought

Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought pauses as he testifies during a hearing of the House Budget Committee about President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2021, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A key White House figure in delaying aid to Ukraine last year reassured lawmakers Wednesday that the Trump administration realizes it is required under the law to spend money approved by Congress.

Acting budget director Russell Vought told the House Budget Committee that “we need to abide by the appropriation … passed by Congress” when distributing agency dollars.

Vought was at the center of the events last year that prompted Trump’s impeachment. As acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, he delayed the release of $391 million in aid to Ukraine. House Democrats impeached Trump in December on charges that he abused his office by ordering delays in aid to Ukraine to strong-arm that country’s government into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father managed the U.S. government’s Ukraine portfolio under President Barack Obama.

“We believe that we need to abide by the appropriation that you pass. … We look at the appropriations law and we look at the authorization law, we figure out what our flexibility is within that framework.”

Vought refused to testify during last year’s impeachment proceedings and the subject of Wednesday’s appearance was Trump’s 2021 budget, released on Monday.

Vought told reporters afterward that he doesn’t anticipate withholding Ukrainian aid again.

“I don’t anticipate anything on that front,” Vought said.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., did not seek a confrontation with Vought on the Ukraine topic.

Instead, Democrats used the three-hour hearing to pummel Trump’s 2021 budget request, which landed with a thud on Monday.

“During his State of the Union address, the President said he was working to improve Americans’ health care,” Yarmuth said. “Then he turned around and cut Medicaid by more than $900 billion knowing it would result in families losing life-saving health care coverage.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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