As congressional investigators continue to circle around President Donald Trump’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders as foot soldiers in his re-election campaign, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defiantly admitted on Thursday that the president held up military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s president into investigating an unproven conspiracy theory about Democratic corruption during the 2016 presidential election.
“Did [President Trump] also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely—no question about that. That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney told reporters Thursday in a rare White House press briefing. “What happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate.”
Anyone with a problem with that, Mulvaney added, is a naif.
“I have news for everybody: get over it,” Mulvaney said, in response to ABC’s Jon Karl, who noted that what Mulvaney had just described was exactly the sort of “quid pro quo” arrangement that Trump has repeatedly denied. “There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
In a statement released later Thursday afternoon, after his comments regarding a “quid pro quo”-type understanding sparked a media firestorm, Mulvaney blamed the media for accurately reporting his comments.“There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server,” Mulvaney said. “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian and military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
Mulvaney’s comments during the presser, held to announce that the president had chosen his own golf resort to host the G7 Summit next summer, severely undercut the White House’s persistent denials that Trump had held back nearly $400 million in congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine in the hopes of pressuring President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating unproven theories about two of Trump’s political opponents: the Democratic National Committee and former Vice President Joe Biden.
In a partial transcript of a July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump asked the leader to investigate Biden’s son’s work with a Ukrainian energy company, and offered the assistance of both his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr in doing so.
“A lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump said at the time, baselessly adding that “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump also requested on the call that Ukraine investigate CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that investigated the hacking of the DNC’s email servers in 2016. The president has floated the conspiracy theory that the hacked servers are in Ukraine, and that their discovery would prove that the Democratic Party leaked damaging emails during the campaign in order to discredit a potential Trump victory as being won through Russian interference. (The American intelligence community has found no indication that anyone but the Russian government was behind the hacking and release of the emails.)
That phone call, which so concerned White House staff that the transcript was placed on a separate server accessible only to a select few staff, prompted a whistleblower complaint about the president’s behavior and has resulted in an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
Mulvaney, who claimed in the presser that pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival is no different than using foreign aide to pressure governments into cracking down on illegal immigration, insisted that the openness with which the Trump administration has described the alleged wrongdoing is proof that there was, in fact, no wrongdoing.
“Everyone wants to believe there’s a coverup,” Mulvaney said. “You don’t give stuff to the public and say ‘here it is' if you are trying to cover something up.”