Is this legal? Congress had held up foreign-aid funds allocated to the Palestinian Authority after Mahmoud Abbas tried an end-run around direct and unconditional peace talks with Israel for a two-state solution, by having international organizations recognize them as a state. In a last-minute act of defiance, John Kerry sent the money anyway, only informing Congress of the transfer just hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration:
Officials said Monday that the Obama administration– in its waning hours– defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority that GOP members of Congress had been blocking.
A State Department official and several congressional aides told The Associated Press that the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning.
The official said former Secretary of State John Kerry had informed some lawmakers of the move shortly before he left the State Department for the last time Thursday.
The aides said written notification dated Jan. 20 was sent to Congress just hours before Donald Trump took the oath of office.
To answer the question in the lead, it does in fact appear to be legal. Congress allocated the funds to the State Department, but later put a “hold” on its disbursement for the reasons cited above, plus a history of Palestinian recalcitrance in upholding their agreements in good faith. William Jacobson notes that a hold on a previous disbursement was put in place when Congress discovered that the PA had paid salaries to convicted terrorists while in prison, for instance. The executive branch normally honors those holds, but is not legally obligated to do so, having already attained the funds in an appropriation.
The last-minute decision to release the funds still smells pretty badly, and reflects on the character of Kerry and Barack Obama. They had plenty of opportunity to make this decision outside of the distraction of the inauguration; in fact, they had over two months since the election to do so, even if they didn’t want voters to punish Hillary Clinton for it if they released the funds before November 8th. They could have released the funds simultaneously with their shameful abandonment of Israel at the UN Security Council, too.
Instead, Kerry and Obama chose to take this action in the dark, attempting to cover the decision with the pomp and pageantry of their successor’s entry to office. That tells us all we need to know about their view of whether this was an honorable decision, or something shameful to be hidden as much as possible. If it needed to be hidden and accomplished through cheap sneakery, why do it at all?