WASHINGTON >> Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, threw the Trump administration’s defense against impeachment into disarray today when he said that the White House withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to further President Donald Trump’s political interests.
Mulvaney told journalists in a televised White House briefing that the aid was withheld in part until Ukraine investigated an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails in 2016 — a theory that would show that Trump was elected without Russian help.
The declaration by Mulvaney, which he took back later in the day, undercut Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked American military aid for Ukraine to an investigation that could help Trump politically.
The comments sent Washington into turmoil as Democrats and some Republicans said they were deeply damaging to Trump.
At the White House, Mulvaney said that Trump had demanded that Ukraine investigate the theory, even though a former White House homeland security adviser had told Trump that the theory had been completely debunked.
“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney told reporters, referring to Trump. “And that is absolutely appropriate.”
Mulvaney’s acknowledgment of a tie between military aid and a political investigation came as House Democrats were summoning a stream of witnesses to the Capitol to investigate whether Trump had pressured Ukraine for his personal political benefit in 2020.
Democrats called Mulvaney’s comments a potential turning point in their impeachment inquiry. “We have a confession,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
By day’s end, after Trump told aides to clean up the mess, Mulvaney issued a statement flatly denying what he had earlier said.
“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” Mulvaney wrote.
Democrats ridiculed the reversal.
“Mick Mulvaney was either lying then, or he’s lying now,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., who is involved in the inquiry. “I think he’s lying now.”