President Trump’s top defenders on Capitol Hill brushed off acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s comments on delayed military aid, saying his press conference did not align with the information coming from closed-door testimonies.
On Thursday, Mr. Mulvaney linked the nearly $400 million in delayed aid for Ukraine to the Trump administration’s desire for an investigation into the 2016 presidential election and whether DNC servers were located in the country.
He later walked back his remarks, saying the news media misconstrued them to further their “witch hunt.”
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” he said in a statement. “The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about the lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.”
Top Republicans said the public should take Mr. Mulvaney’s correction at face value and insisted that the private testimonies of several State Department officials never produced any evidence of a quid pro quo.
“I think what Mick clarified in his statement was very clear,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday at a press conference.
However, at least one lawmaker, Rep. Francis Rooney, was skeptical.
According to several reports, he told reporters that Mr. Mulvaney’s comments “shocked” him, and said the situation wasn’t an “Etch a Sketch” that would be easily walked back.
However, Rep. Mark Meadows, who sat in on several depositions during the two-week break, dismissed Mr. Rooney’s concerns, noting he didn’t attend as many testimonies as Mr. Meadows did.
“I think it was an unfortunate choice of words that may have been more intellectual in Mr. Mulvaney’s mind than actual,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters. “I can tell you, with the witnesses we’ve had to date the withholding of foreign aid for any reason that would be inappropriate did not come up.”
The Trump reelection campaign, for its part, appears to be embracing Mr. Mulvaney’s press conference comments. It’s now selling a “Get Over It” T-shirt for $30.
“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” he said.
For Democrats, Mr. Mulvaney’s comments were essentially a confession to the allegation at the core of their impeachment investigation — President Trump used military aid as leverage to pressure an ally for political purposes.
“Mr. Mulvaney’s acknowledgment means things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse,” said House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, California Democrat.
Mr. Schiff, however, is the Republicans’ main target, as they have repeatedly accused him of conducting an unfair process — which Democrats have strongly denied.
Republicans are looking to force a vote and attempt to censure Mr. Schiff next week.
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