Senior Trump administration officials were on Sunday scrambling to defend the president from escalating domestic and foreign policy scandals, ranging from impeachment proceedings in Washington to the US troop withdrawal in northern Syria.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was forced to row back comments he made earlier in the week acknowledging the administration withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to elicit assistance investigating Donald Trump’s political opponents.
In a White House briefing on Thursday, Mulvaney listed “three issues” tied to the decision to withhold almost $400m in aid. These included “whether [Ukrainian officials] were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice” related to the origins of the inquiry into Russian interference in 2016 election, which Mulvaney linked to an unfounded conspiracy theory which says Ukraine was involved in the theft of emails from Democratic servers.
Asked if that was tantamount to a quid pro quo, Mulvaney said: “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney claimed his words had been misreported, stating he had not acknowledged a quid pro quo.
That’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that
“That’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that,” he said.
But he had clearly changed his line, now stating there were only “two reasons” aid was withheld: “rampant corruption in Ukraine” and “whether or not other nations, specifically European nations, were helping with foreign aid to the Ukraine”.
The existence of a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine is at the centre of an impeachment inquiry led by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The committees involved are also investigating Trump’s request that the Ukrainain government commence an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The president made the request during a 25 July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.