In context: Mick Mulvaney on quid pro quo

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney triggered a wave of news alerts when he told reporters that President Donald Trump held up aid to Ukraine in part to leverage the country’s help in investigating the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee server.

Hours after his Oct. 17 news conference,  Mulvaney retracted what he said.

Here, we provide major sections of Mulvaney’s exchanges with reporters so readers can see what he said for themselves. (We formatted key phrases in bold so they are easier to find.)

Mulvaney says DNC server was one of three reasons aid was held up.

The administration put nearly $400 million for Ukraine on hold before his July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky was unaware of the hold, and Trump didn’t bring it up when he asked Zelensky for "a favor." That favor was for Ukraine to seek the hacked Democratic National Committee server, and look into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Mulvaney explained why the money was withheld.

Mulvaney: "(Trump’s) like, 'Look, this is a corrupt place. I don’t want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets. Plus, I’m not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either.’

"So we actually looked at that, during that time, before — when we cut the money off, before the money actually flowed, because the money flowed by the end of the fiscal year — we actually did an analysis of what other countries were doing in terms of supporting Ukraine. And what we found out was that — and I can’t remember if it’s zero or near zero dollars from any European countries for lethal aid. And you’ve heard the president say this: that we give them tanks and other countries give them pillows. That’s absolutely right, that the — as vocal as the Europeans are about supporting Ukraine, they are really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid. And they weren’t helping Ukraine, and then still to this day are not. And the president did not like that. I know it’s a long answer to your question, but I’m still going.

"So those were the driving factors. Did he also mention to me in passing 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." Now, there was a report —"

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

Mulvaney: "The look back to what happened in 2016 —"

Q: "The investigation into Democrats."

Mulvaney: "— certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate."

Reporters press Mulvaney to clarify if aid hinged on the DNC investigation

Q: "But to be clear, 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."

Mulvaney: "We do that all the time with foreign policy. We were holding money at the same time for — what was it? The Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration."

Mulvaney then reacted to testimony from former top State Department aide Michael McKinley, who had just resigned and then testified before the House impeachment inquiry committees. 

Mulvaney: "McKinley said yesterday that he was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy. That was one of the reasons he was so upset about this. And I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy."

On the Justice Department’s investigation of the origins of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference

Q: "Just to clarify, and just to follow up on that question: So, when you’re saying that politics is going to be involved, the question here is not just about political decisions about how you want to run the government. This is about investigating political opponents. Are you saying that —"

Mulvaney: "No. The DNC — the DNC server —"

Q: "Are you saying that it’s okay for the U.S. government to hold up aid and require a foreign government to investigate political opponents of the president?"

Mulvaney: "Now, you’re talking about looking forward to the next election. We’re talking —"

Q: "Even the DNC. The DNC is still involved in this next election. Is that not correct?"

Mulvaney: "So, wait a second. So there’s —"

Q: "So are you saying —"

Mulvaney: "Hold on a second. No, let me ask you —"

Q: "But you’re asking to investigate the DNC, right?"

Mulvaney: "So, let’s look at this —

Q: "Is the DNC political opponents of the president?"

Mulvaney: "There’s an ongoing — there’s an ongoing investigation by our Department of Justice into the 2016 election. I can’t remember that person’s name."

Q: "Durham."

Mulvaney: "Durham. Durham, okay? That’s an ongoing investigation, right? So you’re saying the President of the United States, the chief law enforcement person, cannot ask somebody to cooperate with an ongoing public investigation into wrongdoing? That’s just bizarre to me that you would think that you can’t do that."

Q: "And so you would say that it’s fine to ask about the DNC but not about Biden? So, Biden is now — Biden is running for the Democratic nomination, right?"

Mulvaney: "Yeah."

Q: "That’s for 2020. So are you drawing that distinction?"

Mulvaney: "That’s a hypothetical because that did not happen here."

Q: "No, no, but — the President —"

Mulvaney: But I would ask you —

Q: "No, no. On the call, the president did ask about investigating the Bidens. Are you saying that the money that was held up, that that had nothing to do with the Bidens?"

Mulvaney: "No, the money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden. There’s no question. And that was the point I made to you."

Q: "And you’re drawing a distinction?"

Mulvaney: "Yeah."

At one point, Mulvaney addresses the Bidens and whether he made an investigation of Burisma a condition for a presidential meeting.

Q: "Did you do anything to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens?

Mulvaney: "No." 

...

Q: "Was the investigation of Burisma ever brought up as a condition to meet with President Trump?"

Mulvaney: "No. Not to me. And not to anybody I know of. I was never in a conversation that had the word ‘Burisma’ in it. But as to —"

Q: "I’m sorry, investigating the Bidens, then?"

Mulvaney: "Okay. Or the Bidens. That never happened with me in there."

Just before 6 p.m., the White House press office released a statement from Mulvaney denouncing the media coverage.

Mulvaney: "Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainan military aid and any investigation in 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 or concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption. Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately. 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 with any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server.

"There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server."