WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff acknowledged Thursday the aid to Ukraine at the center of an ongoing House impeachment inquiry was withheld because of the president’s desire for the country to look into U.S. domestic politics.
“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely,” Mulvaney told reporters during a rare briefing at the White House on Thursday, noting that was part of the president’s concern about corruption in Kiev.
“That’s it,” Mulvaney said. “That’s why we held up the money.”
Speaking publicly for the first time since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry following a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mulvaney said there is nothing wrong with an administration using the threat of withholding foreign aid to pressure a country to adopt a different policy – in this case, to fight corruption.
“We do that all that time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney’s remarks appeared to undercut Trump’s repeated assertion that his administration did not withhold the money in exchange for Ukraine’s help in looking into his political opponents. Mulvaney framed the issue as Trump calling on Ukraine to help the U.S. government with an ongoing investigation and denied that the president sought Zelensky’s help in digging up dirt on Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
But the difference in this case, Trump critics have pointed out, is that the administration was seeking Ukraine’s help in looking at the genesis of the Russian investigation in the 2016 election and was demanding Kiev help Attorney General William Barr investigate a computer server owned by the Democratic National Committee that had been hacked.
That drew renewed criticism to the administration’s efforts.
“This is the textbook definition of an impeachable offense, and the White House Chief of Staff has just admitted it,” tweeted Neal Katyal, a former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration.