- President Donald Trump is currently facing an impeachment inquiry over explosive allegations that he improperly used the power of the office to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
- "Did he also mention to me in passing 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," Mulvaney said during the conference.
- After the press briefing, Mulvaney walked back his previous remarks, claiming that the media had "misconstrued" his comments and there was "absolutely no quid-pro-quo."
- Here's the full transcript of Mulvaney's back-and-forth over the administration's withholding of aid so you can decide for yourself.
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On Thursday, White House acting chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seemingly admitted in a press briefing to reporters that the administration engaged in a quid-pro-quo with Ukraine to trade US military aid for investigations.
President Donald Trump is currently facing an impeachment inquiry over explosive allegations lodged in a whistleblower complaint that he improperly used the power of the office to pressure a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate Democrats and possibly used the aid as a bargaining chip.
So far, the administration has claimed there was no quid-pro-quo whatsoever, and that Trump was justified in asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the Democratic National Committee.
"Did he also mention to me in passing 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," Mulvaney said during the conference.
After the press briefing, Mulvaney walked back his previous remarks, claiming that the media had "misconstrued" his comments "to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump," adding, Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election."
"The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server."
The whistleblower said that in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
The complaint detailed concerns how Trump used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package .
Biden's son, Hunter, served on the board of Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019. Trump and his allies have falsely accused Biden of using his power as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in order to protect Hunter.
A memo summarizing the call released by the White House confirmed the substance of the whistleblower's complaint. It showed that after telling Zelensky that "we do a lot" for Ukraine in terms of military support, Trump asked him for "a favor" by investigating Hunter Biden's business dealings and helping to discredit the Russia probe by investigating a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine was somehow in possession of the DNC's server.
Asking a foreign government for material campaign aid is not only unprecedented from a president, but it could even violate campaign finance laws against soliciting aid from foreign nationals.
And if Trump did, in fact, use military aid as a bargaining chip as Mulvaney might have suggested he did he could also be impeached on charges of extortion and misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
Here's a lightly-edited transcript of Mulvaney's back-and-forth over the administration's withholding of aid so you can decide for yourself:
ABC News White House correspondent Jon Karl: "To the question of Ukraine, can you clarify, was the president serious when he said he also would like to see China investigate the Bidens? And you were directly involved in the decision to withhold funding from Ukraine. Can you explain to us now definitively why the funding was withheld?"
Mulvaney: "It came as no surprise to anybody I haven't done this since I was chief of staff, the last time I was up here was for the budget briefings, right? Something you all asked me was, 'what are you doing with the foreign aid, since we absolutely gutted it, right'? President Trump isn't a big fan of foreign aid: never has been, still isn't. He doesn't like spending money overseas, especially when it's poorly spent. And that is exactly what drove this decision. I've been in the office with him talking with him a couple of times and he says, 'Mick, this is a corrupt place, everybody knows this is a corrupt place.'
And put this in context: this is what happened in Puerto Rico when we got a lot heat because we didn't want to give aid to Puerto Rico because we thought they were corrupt. By the way, it turned out he was right, so put that as your context. So he said, 'look, I don't want to send money to a corrupt place, have them waste it, have them spend it so they can line their own pockets, plus, I'm not sure that other European countries are helping them out either'. So we actually looked at that during that time when we cut the money off, before the money actually flowed because the money flowed by the end of the fiscal year, we actually did an analysis of what other countries were doing in terms of supporting Ukraine.
What I found out was that zero or near zero dollars for Ukraine in lethal aid: we give them tanks, and they give them pillows. As vocal as the Europeans are about supporting Ukraine, they are really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid, and they weren't helping Ukraine, to this day they still are now, and the president did not like that. I know this is a long answer to your question but I'm still going. Those were the driving factors. Did he also mention to me in passing 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."
Karl: "So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that it was ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?"
Mulvaney: "The look-back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate."
Karl: " For withholding the funding?"
Mulvaney: "Which ultimately then, flowed. We were worried if we didn't pay out the money it would be illegal, it would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about, over at OMB, about impoundment.
I know I put half of you to bed, but there is the Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 that says if Congress appropriates money, you have to spend it. We knew that money had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue."
Karl: "But to be clear, what you just described is a quid-pro-quo: the funding will not flow unless you're getting an investigation into the Democratic server happened as well."
Mulvaney: "We do that all the time with foreign policy. We were holding up money at the same time to the Northern Triangle countries so they would change their policies on immigration. This speaks to an important point because I heard this yesterday and I can never remember the gentleman who testified. Was it Mckinney? I don't remember, he testified yesterday...he said yesterday that he was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy.
I have news for everybody: get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy. That is going to happen. Elections have consequences, and the foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration."
- Mick Mulvaney publicly confirms Trump held up Ukraine aid for political gain
- Trump's presidency is disintegrating as he faces his worst 30 days since taking office
- The floodgates are opening as Trump officials publicly defy his orders and more whistleblowers come out of the shadows
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