Washington: A top White House official found himself in the middle of a political storm after he indicated, only to walk back later, that President Donald Trump asked his administration to withhold nearly USD 400 million in military aid to Ukrainian to further his political interests.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's during a White House briefing on Thursday suggested that the Trump Administration held up the military aid to Ukraine in part because the president wanted it to investigate an unproven conspiracy theory about Ukraine's involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server in 2016.
Mulvaney, however, later in evening recanted his remarks and accused the media of misconstruing his comments to advance a "biased and political witch-hunt" against President Trump.
Responding to a question during the press conference, Mulvaney said, Did (Trump) also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that was it. That's why we held up the money."
The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate, Mulvaney said, suggesting that Trump wanted assistance with an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department.
Mulvaney's comments added fuel to Democrats' impeachment probe of Trump as it supported a key allegation in the House impeachment effort, that the president illicitly sought foreign political help as he seeks re-election next year.
Senator Chris Murphy said that White House Chief of Staff just openly admitted that the Trump Administration was holding up military aid for Ukraine to get them to investigate President Trump's political opponents.
That's the definition of a quid pro quo and it echoes what current and former administration officials have told House investigators, Murphy said.
Mulvaney, however, slammed the media, saying, 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, he said.
He clarified that he had referred to 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, he said.
There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server, Mulvaney said.