By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The White House acknowledged Thursday that President Donald Trump’s decision to hold up military aid to Ukraine was linked to his demand that Kyiv investigate the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, a shifting new explanation about events at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
The admission from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney undercut the president’s position that there was no quid pro quo during Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president that sparked the House investigation.
The sudden turn of events had immediate fallout. Trump’s lawyer distanced the president from Mulvaney’s account. The Justice Department said the explanation was news to them. And Democrats cast Mulvaney’s remarks as further evidence wrongdoing as Trump sought a “favor” from Ukraine.
Trump, traveling in Texas, appeared to stand by his top aide, calling Mulvaney a “good man.”
“I have a lot of confidence” in him, Trump said.
But Mulvaney’s initial remarks, made during a rare appearance by an administration official in the White House briefing room, spun open a new phase of the impeachment inquiry.
He indicated that a quid pro quo was at play for the military aid — but a different one than Democrats initially highlighted as they probed Trump’s efforts to have Ukraine investigate a company linked to the son of his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump, as shown in a rough transcript of the July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, sought help in investigating not only the firm tied to Biden, but also a security company hired by the DNC that discovered that Russian agents had broken into the committee’s network. The stolen emails were subsequently published by WikiLeaks ahead of the 2016 election.
“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney told reporters, delivering the White House’s most granular explanation yet of the decision to withhold military assistance.
“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that,” Mulvaney continued. “That’s why we held up the money.”
Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow issued a pointed statement distancing the president’s legal team from Mulvaney’s comments.
“The President’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing,” it said.
Within hours, Mulvaney issued a separate statement claiming his remarks were misconstrued.
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” he said. “The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.”
But it may be difficult to erase what Mulvaney said as House Democrats dig into their investigation.