Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that the U.S. withheld aid from Ukraine to help pressure the government to open a political investigation, acknowledging a quid pro quo deal that Trump has adamantly denied.

During a new conference, Mulvaney cited President Donald Trump‘s request for Ukraine to look into allegations of foreign interference in the 2016 election. He did not mention or imply that the quid pro quo required Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Did he also mention to me in [the] past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely,” Mulvaney said. “No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”

The U.S. has been supporting Ukraine in its anticorruption efforts since the Obama administration, and Mulvaney attempted to connect those efforts to the election investigation.

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“The look-back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” he said.

When pressed by a reporter who called him out for describing a quid pro quo exchange, Mulvaney said “we do that all the time.”

He added moments later, “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. That is going to happen. Elections have consequences, and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”

Hours after the briefing, the White House issued a statement from Mulvaney claiming his comments were taken out of context and denying any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Ukraine.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” the statement said. “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.

The statement then cited Ukraine’s lack of investigation as proof that Trump never used a quid pro quo bargain.

“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,” the statement said.

Mulvaney’s comments at the conference alarmed both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) told CNN that “it’s quite concerning” and that “we’re going to get more information as we’re seeing this happening rapidly.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) and one of the congressmen leading the presidential impeachment inquiry said, “I think Mr. Mulvaney’s acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse.”

He later told a CNN reporter that Mulvaney’s statement attempting to walk back his comments was “not the least bit credible.”

Today was also the subpoena deadline for Mulvaney to turn over documents as part of the House impeachment inquiry, but he has not complied.


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