White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney dug in on his claim that he had not admitted there was a quid pro quo in regard to U.S. military aid for Ukraine and investigating Democrats.
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The admission days earlier, during a Thursday press briefing, had contradicted President Donald Trump’s consistent denials about a key subject of the House impeachment inquiry.
«That’s not what I said,» Mulvaney said on «Fox News Sunday.» «That’s what people said that I said.»
But at a press briefing at the White House on Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine «a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.»
«Those were the driving factors,» Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room. «Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.» (The «server» reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine — and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory «completely false.»)
«So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?» ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked.
«‘Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,» Mulvaney said. «And that is absolutely equivalent.»
«What you described is a quid pro quo,» Karl pressed. «It is: funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.»
«We do that all the time with foreign policy,» Mulvaney answered.
Mulvaney issued a statement later Thursday evening after his admission set off a political firestorm, in which he claimed the press had decided to «misconstrue» what he had said — despite reporting using the actual words he spoke in the White House briefing room hours earlier.
On Sunday, Mulvaney pointed out that he himself never used the term «quid pro quo.»
«Reporters will use their language all the time,» he said. «So my language never said quid pro quo.»
Trump said Friday he thought Mulvaney had «clarified» his initial remarks. «I think he clarified it,» Trump said when a reporter asked him about Mulvaney’s comments, before pivoting to off-topic comments about a visit to Texas the day before.
On Sunday, Mulvaney also said he had listed just two reasons the Trump administration had held up aid for Ukraine — misgivings about corruption and concerns other countries had not contributed enough of their own aid to Ukraine. On Thursday, though, he had actually listed a third reason: wanting Ukraine to cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election.
Mulvaney said he was referring to the DOJ’s investigation into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He suggested that the DOJ’s look at the origins, led by U.S. attorney John Durham, was examining the debunked conspiracy theory about the DNC server. The DOJ has not said it was looking into the issue of the DNC’s server, despite what Mulvaney said, and on Thursday, a senior DOJ official said that, “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.»
On Sunday, Mulvaney said that the look at the DNC server was not linked to aid. «It wasn’t connected to the aid, and that’s why I think that people got sidetracked,» Mulvaney said.
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ABC News’ Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.
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