The Slatest

White House Chief of Staff Admits Trump Demanded Quid Pro Quo From Ukraine

Mulvaney gestures while standing at a lectern in the White House briefing room.
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

At a surprise press conference on Thursday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted that Donald Trump withheld congressionally appropriated military aid from Ukraine this summer in part because he was upset that the country had not yet opened an investigation into the baseless right-wing theory that Ukraine helped the Democratic National Committee frame Russia for hacking Democratic email accounts in 2016.

Here are Mulvaney’s exact words:

MULVANEY: Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money. 

REPORTER: So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he was ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine? 

MULVANEY: 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. 

(Trump appears to be operating under the deluded assumption that the DNC emails were hacked off of a single “server” that is now, physically, in Ukraine.)

The official Republican line had previously been that there was “no quid pro quo” involved in Trump’s request that Ukraine launch (unfounded) investigations into the server allegations and into the Biden family, while the Trump administration happened to be refusing to release military funds to Ukraine. This claim has been undermined in recent weeks by the accounts of State Department officials like Gordon Sondland, which means that Mulvaney’s admission is a sign that Trump’s new strategy, insofar as the word strategy can be applied to the behavior of the White House’s current occupants, is to argue that quid pro quos are fine and that it was completely normal and in the national interest of the United States to use military aid as leverage to ask a foreign country to prove that the Democratic National Committee framed Vladimir Putin.

We’ll see, I guess!