“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded when ABC News reporter Jon Karl pointed out that withholding funding from Ukraine “unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens” is a “quid pro quo.”
“Get over it,” Mulvaney added later. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. ... That is going to happen. Elections have consequences.”
Foreign policy negotiations often demand trading a move by one country with a policy change by the other. President John F. Kennedy resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union by agreeing to remove U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the USSR pulling its nuclear missiles from Cuba.
What makes Trump’s exchange different is that the “favor” he asked of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a personal, political benefit. The insertion of personal gain is what makes it corrupt.
Mulvaney claimed that the Trump administration was withholding aid from Ukraine to coerce the country into investigating a supposed Democratic National Committee email server and alleged “corruption” in the 2016 election ― not former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s top political rivals heading into 2020. (Mulvaney’s claim is incomplete and misleading: Trump brought up both the DNC server and Biden in his call with Ukraine’s president.)
When Karl asked why the U.S. stopped the aid, Mulvaney said that Trump thought it was unfair that the European Union wasn’t doing more to help Ukraine.
Then Mulvaney referenced a debunked conspiracy theory that claims the DNC’s physical “server” is missing in a cover-up and that Crowdstrike, a private cybersecurity company hired to investigate Russia’s hack of the DNC’s servers, is framing Russia for election interference.
“Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that,” Mulvaney told the reporter. “But that’s it, and that’s why we hung up the money.”
As The Daily Beast reported last year, the DNC’s so-called “server” is actually a system of 140 servers and none of the DNC’s machines are missing.
Speaking to reporters, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska denounced efforts to “hold up” foreign aid for political reasons.
“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative,” Murkowski said in response to questions about Mulvaney’s press conference.
Hours after the news conference, Mulvaney walked back his admission that the U.S. withheld Ukranian aid for political gain.
In a lengthy statement, he said the opposite of his earlier remarks: “There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukranian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
Mulvaney also wrongly blamed the media for “misconstruing” and putting a spin on the comments he made during the news conference, which was televised and streamed live to the public.
Paul Blumenthal contributed reporting.
This article has been updated with Mulvaney’s later comments denying he had said there was a quid pro quo over political help.