WASHINGTON — President Trump's chief of staff appeared to confirm what his boss had denied for weeks: The White House's withholding of nearly $400 million in aid was a bargaining chip to get Ukraine to open new corruption investigations that would benefit the president.
Not only did White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admit that the administration was indeed engaged in a quid pro quo, he even had a piece of advice for the press corps: “Get over it.”
In a press conference at the White House Thursday, Mulvaney described his involvement in directing Trump to withhold the aid to Ukraine this summer, which would have provided the country with military support against an aggressive Russia.
“Let’s be clear,” reporter Jon Karl pressed Mulvaney on Thursday, “What you just described is a quid pro quo. It is: ‘Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.’”
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney replied. “We were holding up money at the same time for uh, what was it, the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.”
Later, responding to broad concerns about “political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said: “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump last month, weeks after a whistleblower in the intelligence community alleged that Trump called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his rivals in the 2020 presidential election.
The White House has consistently denied that it engaged in a quid pro quo, even making that a specific talking point it shopped around to Republicans in Congress in the aftermath of the revelations.
“No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo!” Trump said on Twitter of his communications with Zelensky last month.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told VICE News of the press conference, "Mulvaney apparently decided it was OK to admit to an impeachable offense."
“This is the textbook definition of an impeachable offense, and the White House chief of staff has just admitted it,” Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general, tweeted Thursday.
Mulvaney’s surprising candor comes hours after Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified before Congress that Trump told U.S. diplomats to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine policy — and that Rudy said Trump wanted investigations.
Sondland’s testimony was only the latest damaging revelation to come from within Trump’s own administration. Earlier this week, Trump’s former top Russia adviser described a State Department overtaken by Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy campaign. Trump’s former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who resigned in September, called the Ukraine scheme a “drug deal,” and reportedly referred to Giuliani as “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
Greg Walters and Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.
Cover: White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announces that the G7 will be held at Trump National Doral, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)