That was one of three reasons he gave for holding back the aid, the other two being Trump’s suspicion that Ukraine would spend it corruptly and his disgruntlement that Europe wasn’t matching America’s generosity. Notably, he doesn’t mention the Burisma/Biden investigation as a motive. But he does freely admit that the CrowdStrike server that Trump mentioned in his July call with Zelensky was part of the calculus too: “Did [President Trump] 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.”
So … you’re admitting there was a quid pro quo involving the aid and one of the president’s political hobbyhorses, asks Jonathan Karl? Yeah, says Mulvaney, that’s how politics works. Politics influences foreign policy too. Get over it.
Adam Schiff wants to hear more:
Mulvaney just said that U.S. military aid for Ukraine was held up pending Ukraine’s investigation of Democrats.
Things just went from very, very bad to much, much worse. https://t.co/HSVtX9yOBg
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) October 17, 2019
The White House will respond that Mulvaney never claimed that aid was withheld to force an investigation into the Bidens, even though that subject was important enough to Trump that he raised it himself right after mentioning CrowdStrike during his phone chat with Zelensky. And that’s what the impeachment inquiry was supposed to be about, right? It’s about the Bidens. Was the president using the leverage he enjoyed as commander-in-chief to benefit himself *personally* by damaging a political rival whom he might face in next year’s election?
Well, no, Democrats will say, the inquiry is about whether Trump was trying to damage his political rivals generally. Pushing for dirt about the DNC server falls under that heading. But beyond that, the more Trump aides admit that there was *some* sort of quid pro quo with Ukraine, the harder it is to believe that the quid pro quo didn’t include the Burisma matter too — even if Mick Mulvaney was never personally informed of it by the president. Remember, Ron Johnson claims that Gordon Sondland told him personally that there was a quid pro quo in the works with Ukraine; a few days ago, a source told WaPo that Sondland believes the deal involved an official White House visit for Zelensky in return for a statement by Zelensky that Ukraine is committed to investigating corruption, specifically naming Burisma. (That statement was ultimately never issued.) Now we have Mulvaney acknowledging that there was a separate quid pro quo involving military aid for Ukraine in return for information on the CrowdStrike server.
How likely is it, Dems will say, that a president who approached Ukraine in such starkly transactional terms *didn’t* approach the Biden/Burisma matter that way? He cared about it enough to mention it to Zelensky, and he was willing to play hardball with Ukraine to get what he wanted on other matters according to Sondland and Mulvaney. And yet, if you believe the White House, somehow there was a bright red line in his quid pro quo relationship with Ukraine that prevented him from using any official leverage to force their hand on Biden. How plausible is that?
The White House reportedly recognizes, even if Mick Mulvaney does not, that any admission involving a quid pro quo and Ukraine is “unhelpful”:
The source questioned what Mulvaney was talking about when he acknowledged a quid pro quo, tying the aid being held up for Ukraine to investigating the DNC and the 2016 election.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 17, 2019
Even if Dems can’t connect the suspension of military aid to Biden/Burisma, there’s an argument that what Mulvaney admitted to is also improper. He’s right that foreign policy routinely involves leverage plays by the U.S. government, up to and including withholding U.S. aid if a country doesn’t do something we want (that’s what’s Joe Biden did when he warned Ukraine to fire its corrupt prosecutor, right?). The question is whether that leverage is being used to advance a national interest or a personal interest of the president. Is the investigation into the CrowdStrike server a national interest? Well, sure, in theory; it has to do with the 2016 election, right? The problem is that the CrowdStrike thing is a conspiracy theory which even respected former Trump natsec advisors like Tom Bossert regard as crankery. It’s probably not a line of inquiry in any of the DOJ investigations into 2016 and the origins of the Russiagate probe either:
Senior DOJ official, reacting to Mulvaney: "If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.” @evanperez
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) October 17, 2019
No one within the government except Trump himself seems to view the debunked CrowdStrike matter as being of interest. But if Trump got Ukraine to look into it, he could use the fact that a probe exists on the trail next fall. “Ukraine is investigating the server! You wouldn’t believe the things they’re finding! They’re going to prove that the Russia witch hunt was a hoax from day one!” That’s of personal interest, even if it’s so far-fetched that it’s of no interest to the DOJ.
One other point to ponder about the national interest/personal interest distinction, which may be important in a Senate trial. As Philip Klein notes, Rudy Giuliani has conflated those two himself and once even seemed to suggest that Trump’s personal interest was the key motive in all this. “I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it,” he said in May of Ukraine’s investigations into CrowdStrike and Burisma, “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” Note: Helpful to his client, and only secondarily — maybe — to his government. Look at it this way: If the CrowdStrike and Burisma business were primarily matters of national interest rather than personal interest to Trump, he wouldn’t have made his crony personal lawyer Rudy his chief envoy on the matter, right? He would have let Mike Pompeo and his deputies take the lead.
Anyway. Thanks to Mulvaney, the White House is now defending the position that “we did have a quid pro quo with Ukraine and that’s just fine.” Doesn’t feel like progress.
Update: Sounds like Murkowski doesn’t need a Burisma/Biden nexus to all this. And she doesn’t agree with Mulvaney that blocking duly appropriated aid for “political” reasons is proper.
!! Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “yes, absolutely that’s a concern,” when she was told about Mulvaney. "You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period,” she said.
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) October 17, 2019
Update: Watch the clip again if you need to refresh your memory, but Mulvaney couldn’t have been clearer in connecting the military aid to Ukraine following up on the CrowdStrike matter. Jon Karl specifically clarified that with him to make sure he was saying what he was saying. This ass-covering is simply a flat contradiction of what Mulvaney said a few hours ago:
As expected, Mulvaney walks it back: "Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election." pic.twitter.com/WfWL4pMc8i
— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) October 17, 2019
Why the pitiful “pretend I never said it” statement? Because, according to the WSJ, Trump’s legal team was “surprised” to see Mulvaney acknowledge a quid pro quo with Ukraine publicly, even if that quid pro quo didn’t involve the Bidens. Trump must have been pissed too. Maybe Mulvaney had to “correct the record” as a condition of keeping his job, if nothing else. It’s not like Adam Schiff’s now going to pretend like this afternoon’s press conference never happened.
Update: Uh oh. Apparently Trump buddy Sean Hannity called Mulvaney “dumb” on his radio show this afternoon. Maybe Mick’s not long for the White House after this. The good news is, if he gets fired, he can go back to pretending to be a fiscal conservative.