Hours after saying Thursday that President Donald Trump withheld foreign aid in order to get Ukraine’s help in the U.S. election, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney walked back his remarks.
He released a lengthy statement wrongly blaming the press for putting a spin on his comments.
“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” he said. “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
But the remarks Mulvaney made at a news conference earlier in the day were not vague.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said when ABC News reporter Jon Karl noted that it would constitute a quid pro quo if the U.S. was withholding funding from Ukraine unless it agreed to do an investigation into the Democrats’ server.
“Get over it,” Mulvaney added later. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. ... That is going to happen. Elections have consequences.”
Mulvaney’s statement, which followed reports that the White House was shocked by his comments at the news conference, contradicts that.
“The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server,” he said. “The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.”
But in his earlier remarks, Mulvaney said Trump told him he was concerned about corruption related to the Democratic National Committee’s server, the key element of a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump and others close to him have pushed. The baseless claim is that the DNC server has gone missing in a cover-up and that Crowdstrike, a private cybersecurity company hired to investigate Russia’s hack of the DNC’s servers, is now framing Russia for election interference.
In reality, the DNC’s so-called “server” is actually a system of 140 individual servers, none of which are missing.
This article has been updated with details on the news conference and the server conspiracy theory.