The White House confirmed today that it withheld a package of aid to Ukraine in part because it wanted it to investigate the alleged corruption of Democrats in the 2016 elections, but soon after backed down and denied that statement.
“Did he mention (Trump) corruption related to the DNC (Democratic National Committee, party secretariat) server? Absolutely. No doubt about it. And that’s why we kept the money” that was going to Ukraine, said Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, at a press conference.
“The review of what happened in 2016 was certainly part of Trump’s concern about corruption in that country (Ukraine). And that’s absolutely appropriate,” he added.
Mulvaney was referring to the president’s suspicion that a DNC server pirated by Russian intelligence agents and allegedly containing emails from his rival in the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton, was in Ukraine, for which there is no evidence.
Mulvaney’s words were the first official admission that Trump wanted to achieve something electoral-political when he withheld nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, part of the investigation for a political trial against the president.
The Democratic investigation prior to a possible impeachment has so far focused on the possibility that Trump would make it a condition for delivering aid: a demand that the Ukrainian authorities investigate the alleged corruption in Ukraine of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump has acknowledged that he pressured Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenski to investigate Biden and his son, but has refused to withhold financial aid to do so.
“The money we withheld had absolutely nothing to do with Biden,” Mulvaney insisted Thursday.
After the uproar caused by his words, Mulvaney retreated in a statement and blamed the press: “Again, the media has decided to misinterpret my comments to promote a partial and political witch-hunt against President Trump”.
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military assistance and no investigation into the 2016 election,” he said.
“The president never told me to keep any money until the Ukrainians did something about the server. The only reasons we withheld the money was because of concern about the lack of support for other nations and concerns about corruption,” he said.
There was never any link between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server,” he insisted, “this is explicitly obvious from the fact that the aid money was given without any action by the Ukrainians on the server.
From Texas, where he moved today for a rally, Trump pointed out, in response to a question about whether he had seen Mulvaney’s press conference, that he had not seen it, but had heard that he had done “a good job”.
“Mick is a good man,” Trump said. “I have a lot of confidence in him,” he said.