Acting White House chief of staff says politics and foreign policy are mixed all the time, before walking back remarks
The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, suggested that there was a quid pro quo in relations with Ukraine, only to walk back that statement later in the day.
Mulvaney on Thursday morning said the Trump administrations decision to withhold millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine was part of efforts to clean up corruption in the country. He was apparently referring, at least in part, to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about a purported Ukrainian link to Russias hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the 2016 presidential 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 in the White House briefing room.
Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that, Mulvaney continued. But thats it. Thats why we held up the money.
Asked about mixing politics with foreign policy, Mulvaney replied: We do that all the time with foreign policy I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy. Elections have consequences.
Mulvaneys statement contradicted Trumps repeated denials that his administration had made military aid to Ukraine contingent upon Kyivs willingness to open an investigation into the debunked DNC theory and the dealings of Hunter Biden in Ukraine.
Trumps personal lawyer Jay Sekulow issued a pointed statement shortly after, distancing the presidents legal team from Mulvaneys comments.
The Presidents legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaneys press briefing, it said.
Mulvaney himself later claimed in a statement that his comments had been 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.
The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption, he continued. There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that Mulvaneys remarks made the impeachment situation much, much worse.
Schiff would not comment on whether he would bring Mulvaney in for a deposition, but the House committees investigating impeachment have already requested documents from the acting White House chief of staff.
Also at the press briefing on Thursday, Mulvaney announced that the White House had chosen Trumps golf resort near Miami as the site for the Group of Seven summit in June of next year.
The idea of holding the event at Trumps resort has been criticized by government ethics watchdogs and anti-corruption groups. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the move was unbelievable, especially in the light of impeachment efforts.
Also on Thursday, the US ambassador to the European Union testified before Congress. Gordon Sondland said Trump had instructed US diplomats to go through his personal lawyer to make the Ukrainian presidents access to the White House dependent on launching investigations into Trumps political opponents.
In his opening statement to Congress, Sondland said he had been disappointed Trump had chosen to conduct an important strategic relationship through Rudy Giuliani.
Sondland insisted he only realized later that the aim of the investigations Trump was demanding was to target the Democratic party and Joe Biden.