Remember the scandal before the abandonment of the Kurds to Turkey’s tender mercies? The one in which Trump Administration officials spent weeks denying that there was a quid pro quo Donald Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden? You can hardly be blamed if the Ukraine scandal seems like ancient history, but Mick Mulvaney just blew the Ukraine denials out of the water.
At a press conference today, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked why Ukraine aid funding was held up over the summer. Mulvaney gave a long, rambling answer (you can see his full answer here) that began by sticking to the party line that President Trump was concerned about Ukrainian corruption. But then Mulvaney dropped a bombshell.
“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney asked rhetorically. “Absolutely! No question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.”
“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason he wanted to withhold funding to Ukraine,” a reporter prodded.
“The look back to what happened in 2016 was certainly part of the thing he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney confirmed, adding, “And that was absolutely appropriate.”
The aid “ultimately, then, flowed,” Mulvaney continued.
“By the way, there was a report that we were worried that, if we didn’t pay out the money, that it would be illegal, it would be unlawful,” Mulvaney continued. “That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it that makes it look a lot worse than it really is.”
“We were concerned over at OMB about an impoundment,” Mulvaney explained. “The Budget Control Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money, you have to spend it…. We knew that money had to go out the door by the end of September or we had to have a really, really good reason not to do it, and that was the legality.”
“Let’s be clear: what you just described is a quid pro quo,” another reporter said, returning to the main issue. “It is [that] funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrat server happened as well.”
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered. “We were holding up money at the same time for the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.”
Referring to congressional testimony in which a witness said that he was “upset about the political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney shot back, “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy. That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration.”
Mulvaney blamed the uproar over the phone call on “a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘I don’t like President Trump’s politics so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt.”
Mr. Mulvaney apparently doesn’t see the difference between advocating for policy changes and pushing foreign governments to investigate domestic political opponents. In essence, Mr. Mulvaney just copped to doing the same thing that Republicans have spent the last three years accusing the Obama Administration of doing.
Tom Bossert, President Trump’s former homeland security advisor, said in September that the president had been told that there was nothing to the theory that Ukraine played a role in the DNC email hack.
“It’s not only a conspiracy theory. It is completely debunked,” Bossert said in Politico.
Other members of the Trump Administration do not seem to take the possibility of withholding aid appropriated by Congress as cavalierly as Mr. Mulvaney. In a statement, the Justice Department said, “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.”
Jay Sekulow, part of President Trump’s legal team, told CNN, “The legal team was not involved in the acting chief of staff’s press briefing.”
After his brash statements, which will undoubtedly add fuel to the drive to impeach the president, Mr. Mulvaney’s own future may be in doubt as well. President Trump may have to fire the acting chief of staff to distance himself from Mulvaney’s comments.
With friends such as Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have now undercut the president’s defense with incriminating statements on camera, Donald Trump hardly needs any enemies.
UPDATE: Mulvaney said later in the that his comments were “misconstrued.”
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” Mulvaney told reporters. “There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server – this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server.”