A few hours after confirming a quid pro quo between a conspiracy theory pursued by President Donald Trump and military aid allocated for Ukraine, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reversed himself.
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” he said in a statement released by the White House.
That’s the opposite of what he said a few hours earlier on Thursday.
At a press conference, Mulvaney said Trump’s belief that Ukraine had meddled in favor of the Democrats in the 2016 election was one reason why the White House had withheld the military aid.
“That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money,” he said, citing the “server” at the center of the conspiracy, which Trump apparently believed was being held in Ukraine, as well as two other reasons.
The conspiracy asserts that the cybersecurity firm that the Democratic Party hired in 2016 to investigate its hacked and stolen emails actually manufactured evidence to implicate Russian hackers. On his infamous July phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pressured Zelensky to look into the matter.
When ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out that this exchange — aid for an investigation into 2016 — was the definition of a quid pro quo, Mulvaney didn’t deny it.
“To be clear, what you described is a quid pro quo, it is, funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well?” Karl asked.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said.
The Mulvaney statement released by the White House at the end of the day Thursday asserted that “the only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.”
He did not say that in the briefing. Rather, he cited three reasons.
First, he said, was Trump’s purported concern about corruption in Ukraine.
The second reason, Mulvaney said, was a White House analysis that other countries hadn’t given Ukraine lethal aid, as the United States Congress had allocated. “They are really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid,” he said of other countries, adding: “So those were the driving factors.”
Then, Mulvaney mentioned a third reason.
“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.”
Ok, in light of Mulvaney's new claim that he never said they held up the money over the "DNC server", let's run the tape. pic.twitter.com/h2Em3GGvYy
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 17, 2019
Mulvaney’s statement about his press conference didn’t address that last remark. Read it in full below:
“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.
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. Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately. There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server – this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server.
“There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”