Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to contradict President Trump’s claim that there was no “quid pro quo” during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, by telling reporters at the White House Thursday that the release of military aid to Ukraine was tied to the administration’s demands that Kiev investigate purported corruption by the Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
When questioned by reporters about the administration’s decision to withhold $400 million in aid from Ukraine, Mulvaney said that Trump told him at the time: "This is a corrupt place. Everyone knows this is a corrupt place ... Plus, I'm not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either.”
Mulvaney added: “Did [Trump] also mention to me, in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money ... The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.”
Mulvaney was then questioned by a reporter about his explanation, saying that it sounded like a quid pro quo.
He responded: "We do that all the time. Get over it. Politics is going to be involved in foreign policy. Elections do have consequences."
He pointed to the example of the administration holding up aid to Central American countries to force them to change their policies on immigration. The White House ultimately agreed to release the aid to Ukraine last month.
Mulvaney also said that one of the stipulations for Ukraine receiving aid was that Kiev cooperates with Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the 2016 Russia investigation. But a senior Justice Department official told Fox News that the department had no idea what Mulvaney was talking about.
"If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation with any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us," the official said.
While most of Trump’s critics have seized on him imploring the Ukrainian leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over their business dealings in the eastern European nation, Mulvaney’s comments are likely to turn the attention of Trump's critics onto an entirely different matter.
Trump has claimed multiple times in the past, without evidence, that a server with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s missing emails on it was being held by a company based in Ukraine.
House Democrats, who have been investigating whether the president engaged in a political quid pro quo when he asked the new Ukraine president to do a "favor," immediately called it an admission of guilt.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the impeachment probe, told reporters: "I think Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who sits on both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, tweeted: “Mick Mulvaney has co-signed [Donald Trump’s] confession to the crime.”
It is illegal to solicit or receive anything of value from a foreign entity in U.S. elections.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.