Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until it looked into the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukrainian nationals were in possession of a computer server belonging to the Democratic National Committee.
Asked why the administration had withheld $400 million in military aid allocated by Congress to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression, Mulvaney first cited the president’s desire to make sure Kiev’s government was not corrupt. Then, confirming a quid pro quo laid out in the partial summary released by the White House of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mulvaney cited a conspiracy theory involving the DNC server that housed emails leaked during the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some in the administration have been looking for evidence that the DNC hack was carried out by Ukrainian agents seeking to help the Clinton campaign, rather than Russians trying to help Trump — which was the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies.
“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney responded when asked about the president’s public call for China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. “Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. That’s why we held up the money.”
In a tone as defiant as the one used by the president he works for, Mulvaney then asserted that there was nothing improper about placing such conditions on military aid.
“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,” Mulvaney said.
When ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl pointed out that withholding aid to Ukraine until an investigation into the DNC server was launched was the very definition of a quid pro quo, Mulvaney responded, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Former Trump national security aide Thomas Bossert last month blasted the president and his aides for pushing the “conspiracy theory” that the DNC server, which was hacked by Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 election, was now in Ukraine.
“It’s not only a conspiracy theory, it is completely debunked,” Bossert told ABC News.
During his July 25 call, Trump made clear that he placed stock in the story and wanted Kiev’s government to look into it.
“I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike,” Trump told Zelensky, referring to the computer-security company that investigated the hack for the DNC. “I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
Separately, Trump and Giuliani asked Ukraine to investigate Biden regarding his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine, now the focus of the impeachment investigation in the House. The administration has maintained that its intent was to root out corruption and that it was coincidental that the allegations it was probing involved a leading Democratic candidate to run against Trump in 2020.
Mulvaney insisted that withholding military aid had nothing to do with that investigation.
“The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden,” he said.
Hours after the press briefing, Mulvaney issued a statement in which he accused the media of misinterpreting his videotaped remarks and denying that a quid pro quo had been suggested.
“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments 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,” Mulvaney said in his statement. “The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.”
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