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.”
As has been well reported in the media, Trump has asked, encouraged or demanded that the leader of a foreign government undertake an investigation designed to produce information that could damage a potential 2020 campaign rival, Joe Biden.
The contents of the Trump phone call prompted a government official to file a whistleblower complaint, a necessary but unprecedented grievance aimed at the president. The inspector general for the intelligence community found the whistleblower’s charge credible and urgent, in which case the information is required by law to be relayed to Congress. That hasn’t happened because the White House and Justice Department are fighting it.
In weekend tweets, Trump has redoubled efforts to draw attention away from himself and shift it to Biden and Biden’s son. “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden,” he said Friday.
This has a very familiar pattern. Remember when Trump started harping on Hillary’s emails? He’s trying to twist things around.
If you read comments in social media by Trump supporters (be they real or trolls or paid agitators) the essence of their remarks is that the “deep state” is involved in trying to get Trump, and that Biden is up to criminal activity. We’ve been here before. And it needs to be stopped in its tracks.
“This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power, to get on the phone with a foreign power who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me, if that’s what happened, that’s what appears to have happened,” Biden told reporters. “Trump’s doing this because he knows I will beat him like a drum and is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try and smear.”
Biden also challenged Trump to release a transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian leader.
The Biden campaign sent a lengthy memo to reporters Saturday listing quotes from various news outlets, including the Kyiv Post in Ukraine, discrediting Trump’s attack.