Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s acting chief of staff, tried to control the damage on Sunday from his earlier acknowledgment that the White House used nearly $400 million in aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the 2016 presidential election.
Since Mulvaney made the shocking admission on Thursday, he has been pulling back on the remarks and assigning responsibility to the media, insisting his words have been misconstrued.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace, Mulvaney denied what he had previously said during a televised news conference: that defense funding was frozen in part over the demand that Ukraine launch an investigation that could politically benefit Trump.
“That’s not what I said. That’s what people said that I said,” Mulvaney said. “Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo, because there isn’t.”
Mulvaney told reporters Thursday that military aid to Ukraine that had already been appropriated by Congress was being used as leverage for Trump’s demand that Kyiv investigate a conspiracy theory. This is a theory that places blame on Ukraine for election interference involving in 2016 the hacking of Democratic National Committee computer servers. The intelligence community has concluded that the effort was orchestrated by Russia.
“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about it. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney said last week, telling reporters that “we do that all the time with foreign policy,” referring to politics influencing foreign affairs.
Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said Mulvaney’s admission meant “things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse,” he said.
Some Republicans also condemned the shocking remarks. “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative, period,” said Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska.
Mulvaney said Sunday that he never used the specific words “quid pro quo,” adding that the “back and forth” and “rapid-fire” nature of White House press briefings may have left some observers confused about what he was trying to say.
“There was never any connection between the flow of money and the server,” Mulvaney said on Sunday.