WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday formally convened to consider articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, began by reading aloud the two articles in the well of the U.S. Senate, the start of the pomp and ceremony of a trial to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.
The presentation of articles got underway hours after a nonpartisan government watchdog agency said the Trump administration violated federal law by withholding congressionally approved aid to Ukraine last summer – an action at the heart of the impeachment effort.
The law "does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Thursday morning.
The agency report says that while Congress makes laws, including those deciding how public money is spent, "the president is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law."
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called the report a "bombshell legal opinion" that "demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine."
The House impeached the president last month for abusing his office and obstructing Congress' investigation, arguing that he withheld about $400 million in aid and a White House meeting with Trump in hopes of getting Ukraine's president to announce an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden's son.
Republicans stressed that the GAO report said the administration's Office of Management and Budget, not the president, broke the law. The office, known as OMB, is within the executive office of the president.
"I think we're going to hear some more about it, but I don't think that changes anything," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
At midday Thursday, seven House Democrats who will act as impeachment managers walked across the Capitol to serve as de facto prosecutors in the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. They include Schiff and Reps. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Jason Crow of Colorado and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Val Demmings of Florida.