WH: Ukraine Aid Held Over Probe 10/18 06:18
The White House acknowledged 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.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House acknowledged 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 Thursday 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 Republican president from Mulvaney's account. The Justice Department said
the explanation was news to them. And Democrats cast Mulvaney's remarks as
further evidence of 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
"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.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee
leading the impeachment probe, said, "I think Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment
means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse."
Mulvaney, who has already received a subpoena for documents in the
impeachment probe, will now likely be asked by investigators to appear for a
"I believe that they're getting closer to basically admitting a crime," said
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who said Mulvaney should testify. "Where he talks
about politics being attached to foreign policy. I mean, you're going up to the
water's edge there."
Mulvaney during the press briefing defended Trump's request to Ukraine by
casting it as part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation looking into
the origins of the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016
He said the investigation was one of several reasons Trump held up nearly
$400 million in military aid to Ukraine, including a desire for European
nations to increase their own assistance to Kyiv. Funding was eventually
A senior official at the Justice Department said if the White House was
withholding aid in regard to cooperation with any investigation at the
department, it was news to them. The official was not unauthorized to discuss
the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump's request to Ukraine for an investigation into the 2016 election
appears linked to unfounded conspiracy theories about a Ukraine link to the DNC
hack that began circulating almost immediately after the breach was discovered.
Some were propagated in stories online and by Russian media and included
mention of a supposed "hidden DNC server," which acolytes of the Republican
political operative Roger Stone picked up and circulated.
The sudden development punctuated another fast-moving day in the impeachment
Lawmakers met for hours behind closed doors with the U.S. ambassador to the
European Union, Gordon Sondland, who testified that he disagreed with Trump's
decision to have envoys work with the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani
on Ukraine policy, rather than through traditional government channels.
The ambassador was the latest in a series of witnesses, many of them career
State Department and foreign policy officials, providing new and detailed
concerns about Trump and Giuliani and their attempts to influence Ukraine.
Sondland's attempt to stand apart from Trump is remarkable since, unlike
other career civil servants, he is a hand-picked political appointee of the
president who contributed $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee.
Mulvaney defended Trump's decision to tap Giuliani to help lead Ukraine
policy, saying it was the president's prerogative.
"You may not like the fact that Giuliani was involved," he told reporters.
"It's not illegal, it's not impeachable."
"The president gets to set foreign policy, and he gets to choose who to do
so, as long as it doesn't violate any law," Mulvaney added.
As for complaints about mixing politics with foreign policy, Mulvaney had a
blunt rejoinder: "I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be
political influence in foreign policy."
Democrats plodding their way through hours of witness testimony during a
week of closed-door hearings said Mulvaney's admissions were game-changing in
the impeachment inquiry.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee,
said Mulvaney "co-signed the president's confession."