Mulvaney confirms Ukraine aid withheld in part to force probe of Democrats thumbnail

Mulvaney confirms Ukraine aid withheld in part to force probe of Democrats

Mulvaney defended the maneuver as “absolutely appropriate.”“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney said, referring to an unproven conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that Kyiv, not Moscow, interfered in the last U.S. presidential election.But hours later, Mulvaney scrambled to walk back his comments in an official statement blaming the media for misconstruing his words “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.”“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” he said in a written statement. “There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server … there was never any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”In his press conference, Mulvaney said, too, that the funds had been withheld because European countries were being “really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid” for Ukraine, and over whether Ukraine’s leaders “were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice.”But he also characterized the decision to leverage congressionally approved aid as common practice, citing other instances in which the Trump administration has withheld aid to foreign countries and telling critics to “get over it.”“I have news for everybody: get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “Elections do have consequences and they should, and your foreign policy is going to change … there’s no problem with that.”Mulvaney’s bold defense of Trump’s Ukraine actions comes as the House’s impeachment probe is closing in on the president’s most senior advisers, to determine whether Trump abused his power and pressured a foreign government to conduct investigations that could help his chances of reelection in 2020.To the Democrats on the three panels conducting the impeachment probe, Mulvaney’s words marked a significant turning point.“We have a confession from the president,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, referring to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressured his counterpart to open investigations into the 2016 election and former vice president Joe Biden’s son, who sat on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.Mulvaney, Swalwell said, “co-signed the president’s confession,” adding that the administration was still engaging in “an ongoing coverup.”Privately, some Republicans were incensed, calling Mulvaney’s comments a strategic mistake in the midst of the impeachment probe.“Totally inexplicable,” said one GOP lawmaker, complaining of the “damage” Mulvaney’s words caused. “He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen.” The congressman spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.During his Thursday news conference, Mulvaney said the decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine had “absolutely nothing to do with Biden.” He also denied assertions that the administration had tried to hide anything by moving the transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky to a more secure server.“Let me ask you this, if we wanted to cover this up, would we have called the Department of Justice almost immediately and have them look at the transcript of the tape, which we did, by the way?” Mulvaney said. “If we wanted to cover this up, would we have released it to the public?”But in the wake of his comments, other administration officials, as well as Trump’s legal team, attempted to distance themselves from Mulvaney.A Justice Department official took issue with Mulvaney’s remarks, stating that “if the White House was
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