Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, threw the Trump’s administration defense against impeachment into disarray on Thursday when he admitted that the White House did, in fact, withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to further Trump’s political interests.
Mulvaney told a room full of journalists in a White House briefing that was televised live that the aid was, in fact, withheld in part until Ukraine investigated an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails in 2016 — a theory that would show that Trump was elected without Russian help.
The declaration by Mulvaney, which he tried to take back later in the day, undercut Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked American military aid for Ukraine to an investigation that could help Trump politically.
The comments sent Washington into turmoil as Democrats and some Republicans said they were deeply damaging to Trump.
Despite his later attempt at denying what he said, Mulvaney pointed to “three issues” that explained why officials withheld the aid: corruption in Ukraine, frustration that European governments were not providing more money to Ukraine and the president’s demand that Kiev officials investigate the issue of the Democratic National Committee server.
“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the D.N.C. server?” Mulvaney said, referring to Trump. “Absolutely. No question about that.” He added, “That’s why we held up the money.”
Democrats ridiculed Mulvaney’s attempt to reverse what he admitted earlier in the day on camera.
“Mick Mulvaney was either lying then, or he’s lying now,” said Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat involved in the inquiry. “I think he’s lying now.”