During a typically contentious and lengthy CNN interview on Sunday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted that she didn’t know whether President Donald Trump held up military aid because he wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Conway first attempted to claim that Biden—who is currently a national frontrunner among Democratic presidential candidates—was not a political rival of Trump’s.
After Conway claimed Trump was merely interested in unsubstantiated claims that the Bidens were guilty of wrongdoing in Ukraine because of public reports about Hunter Biden’s business dealings, she went on to say she was confident Trump never mentioned the 2020 election during his July phone call with the Ukrainian president.
The top White House aide continued to deflect and pivot as guest host Dana Bash tried to get her to acknowledge whether or not it was appropriate for Trump to pressure a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a domestic political opponent. With Conway merely saying the president’s behavior wasn’t impeachable, Bash asked if Trump engaged in a quid pro quo.
“Was the administration holding up military aid in exchange for this investigation?” Bash pressed Conway.
“They have the aid,” the Trump adviser said. “They’re using the aid.”
Bash continued to grill Conway on whether Trump held up aid unless Ukraine investigated the Bidens, something the Trump official couldn’t definitively deny.
“I don’t know,” Conway replied. “But I know they’ve got their aid.”
The veteran pollster then attempted to distract Bash by complaining that CNN isn’t giving enough coverage to the recent killing of the leader of ISIS. Bash, however, didn’t take the bait and instead stayed focused on the question at hand—whether or not there was a quid pro quo.
“I don’t know whether aid was being held up and for how long,” Conway responded when Bash noted she was refusing to say whether there was a quid pro quo. “I know there were two senators, a Democrat and Republican, who called over from Ukraine and inquired about the aid.”
It would appear that Conway was referencing a meeting earlier this year between Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Zelensky asked about the funding as it hadn’t arrived yet. Johnson has said that Trump blocked him from telling Zelensky that the aid was on its way, adding that Trump was withholding aid because he wanted allegations of corruption surrounding the 2016 election investigated.
Eventually, Bash moved onto other subjects, specifically asking why the president had disparaged top Ukrainian envoy Bill Taylor and National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Taylor testified last month that military aid was contingent on Ukraine formally announcing investigations into the Bidens and Vindman told Congress he raised concerns to his superiors about Trump's call.
“He didn’t mention them by name,” Conway said after Bash pointed out Trump called Never-Trump Republicans “human scum.”
“So he talked about Never Trumpers but then he also called Vindman a Never Trumper and if you connect the dots, which he is doing, he is saying they are human scum,” Bash pushed back. “Is that appropriate?”
“I would never disparage the patriotism or the public service of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman,” Conway swerved. “That is a given for Kellyanne Conway.”
The counselor to the president also appeared on Fox News Sunday and sparred with anchor Chris Wallace on the issue of a quid pro quo. After Wallace said that it was an “awfully interesting coincidence” that the aid was held up all summer and was only released after the story about the whistleblower complaint came out, Conway objected to the Fox host’s characterization.
“Don’t go there,” she complained. “You have no idea that’s why it was held up.”
Wallace fired back, asking her if she knows whether or not it was just a coincidence that the aid was finally released in September, prompting Conway to deflect and accuse the whistleblower of “colluding” with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).
The Biden campaign, meanwhile, took notice that one of the president's top aides was unable to say that there was no quid pro quo on Trump's part.
“In an extraordinary development, even the Trump advisor who coined the term ‘alternative facts’ is unwilling to say that Donald Trump didn't subvert American national security with a quid pro quo that would force a foreign country to lie about the candidate who's beaten him in over 70 polls,” Rapid Response Director Andrew Bates said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “The White House has already admitted that Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to spread this vile, universally-debunked conspiracy theory. And the lead White House Ukraine expert, a decorated Iraq veteran, has now testified that military assistance was delayed in an attempt to force Ukraine to become an involuntary arm of the struggling Trump re-election campaign. Donald Trump's administration is melting down because of the lengths to which he'd go not to face Joe Biden next year.”