White House Acknowledges Strings Attached in Trump Withholding Ukraine Aid

Leah Millis/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim – debunked as a conspiracy theory – about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a “quid pro quo” – a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor – for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid – already approved by Congress – was held up partly over Trump’s concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said.

He later contradicted himself, ruling out a quid pro quo in a statement from the White House.

In a July 25 call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” to look into the server as well as the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC in 2016 to investigate hacking of Democratic emails that it later determined was done by Russia.

Trump also asked Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political opponent, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who had served as a director for a Ukrainian energy company. Zelenskiy agreed during the call to carry out the investigation that Trump sought. The U.S. aid was later provided to Ukraine.

The DNC server issue is a discredited claim that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and that a Democratic Party computer server was being held somewhere in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies and a special counsel investigation concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Mulvaney said Trump did not like foreign aid, thought Ukraine was corrupt and was annoyed at how little “lethal aid” European nations provided to Ukraine as it combated Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

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

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

A reporter told Mulvaney that what he just described was a quid pro quo. “We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded.

In his later statement, Mulvaney offered a different account, saying: “There was absolutely no quid pro quo.”

“There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server,” Mulvaney said.

Trump said he had a lot of confidence in Mulvaney.

Democratic members of the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry pounced on Mulvaney’s earlier remarks.

Representative Gerald Connolly said: “I guess having failed at discrediting the facts of this case, they’ve decided on a new tactic, which is to admit them and basically say: ‘So what’?

“The answer to that is, well the ‘so what’ is you’re going to be impeached because that’s abuse of office. And extortion, the last time I checked, is still a crime,” he said.

U.S. DIPLOMAT TESTIFIES

Mulvaney’s comments came after the U.S. ambassador to the European Union said in written testimony in the impeachment inquiry that Trump told senior U.S. officials to talk directly to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about U.S. policy in Ukraine, raising concern that the president was outsourcing American foreign policy to a private citizen.

The envoy, Gordon Sondland, told lawmakers in the Democratic-led inquiry that he did not understand “until much later” that Giuliani’s agenda included a push for Ukraine to investigate Biden.

His testimony was the clearest sign yet that Trump’s efforts to erect a firewall around the White House and frustrate the Democratic-led inquiry’s efforts to interview administration officials are proving unsuccessful.

More testimony is expected next week, including from a top Pentagon official who oversees policy on Ukraine, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.

In prepared testimony, Sondland said he and two other officials – Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ukraine Special Envoy Kurt Volker – were disappointed in Trump’s May order, but they followed it anyway. Sondland said he felt foreign policy should be the work of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer.

Trump said on Thursday that Perry would step down as energy secretary by the end of the year, adding he had known for months that Perry would resign. The former Texas governor said previously he had no plans to resign. He faces a Friday deadline to turn over documents in the impeachment probe.

Sondland, a Republican Trump political donor and a wealthy Oregon hotelier before being named by the president to his EU post last year, also said that “inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong.”

His testimony underscored the pivotal role of Giuliani in the Ukraine scandal. Before the president’s July call with Ukraine’s president, Giuliani had been working to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

The impeachment inquiry could lead to the House passing formal charges – known as articles of impeachment – which would prompt a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. The Senate is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have shown little inclination toward removing him.

MAY 23 MEETING

Sondland said that on May 23, three days after Zelenskiy’s inauguration, U.S. officials who had attended debriefed Trump and key aides at the White House.

The ambassador said the officials taking part in the meeting emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the importance of the relationship with Zelenskiy, whom he called a reformer planning to fight corruption.

“We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns,” he added.

“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” he said.

During his White House briefing, Mulvaney acknowledged that Trump had directed officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine, and defended the move as proper. Mulvaney denied that there was a “shadow foreign policy” on Ukraine led by Giuliani.

Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sondland’s testimony.

Sondland is the latest witness to speak to lawmakers in the impeachment inquiry about his knowledge of efforts by the president to urge Ukraine to investigate Biden as lawmakers investigate whether Trump committed any “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump withheld the military aid to Ukraine before making the request.

“Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters,” Sondland said.

While he expressed misgivings in his testimony about Giuliani’s role, other witnesses have described Sondland as being among a trio of senior U.S. officials who were considered more reliable than career diplomats in pressing Ukraine to launch investigations that might help Trump’s re-election bid.

Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption related to Ukraine, without offering evidence. The Bidens have denied any wrongdoing.

Sondland said he did not fully appreciate in late May what Giuliani’s intentions were regarding Ukraine.

“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign,” Sondland said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Karen Freifeld)

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WellHungChad
Member

SyPhyllis, again, YOU’RE the one being duped. 1) I’m stating this slowly because you’re so slow in your comprehension: The DNC’s concern over the hacking of their servers was because there was very damning evidence on them (that eventually lead to Donna Barazil’s symbolic firing. She had to be the scapegoat. There HAS to be some implicit racism there from the Dem’s KKK past. There were also the the leaking of debate questions to their soon to be coronated Queen B Hillary. As were many, many more damning emails. 2) The citations in the Mueller report that you erroneously (as… Read more »

WellHungChad
Member

SyPhyllis, again, YOU’RE the one being duped. 1) I’m stating this slowly because you’re so slow in your comprehension: The DNC’s concern over the hacking of their servers was because there was very damning evidence on them (that eventually lead to Donna Barazil’s symbolic firing. She had to be the scapegoat. There HAS to be some implicit racism there from the Dem’s KKK past. There were also the the leaking of debate questions to their soon to be coronated Queen B Hillary. As were many, many more damning emails. 2) The citations in the Mueller report that you erroneously (as… Read more »

General Confusion
Member

“WHY do you get yourself riled up over a policy that will not be passed by Congress in your or my lifetime?” Phyllis If you want anything at all to change, you must vote for candidates who will fight for it, fight for us. Centrists such as Biden, Buttigieg or Kamala Harris certainly won’t fight for you. Biden is downright dangerous. Harris can’t make up her mind, and Buttigieg is looking more establishment every day. You have to start somewhere. You likely won’t get everything you want all at once, but if you vote for a moderate or a centrist,… Read more »

James
Member

>Charles< The comment from the Confused Socialist puppet only confirms he and his ilk want to destroy the United States. He's not fooling anyone with his Socialist indoctrinated prattle that he's parroting and pedaling. For example: The puppet is all for the Green New Deal which will eliminate millions and millions of jobs around the entire WORLD; not just here in the USA at a cost of $96 TRILLION here – at last estimate. Also, the puppet and his ilk are all for "Medicare for All" at a cost of $32 TRILLION (at last estimate) over 10 years; or $3.2… Read more »

Charles
Member

” U.S. intelligence agencies and a special counsel investigation concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy.” BS, there is no evidence supporting the Russians supporting the Trump campaign through hacking or collusion. The only hacking and colluding were between the DNC and the Hillarrhoid.

General Confusion
Member

“Could you folks define Trump Derangement Syndrome?” Phyllis

Since nobody seems to want to define TDS for you, I looked to a psychologist’s view of it for you. I think the definition that you are looking for is in there. It is the closest that I have found that describes many IJR members.

“https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/talking-about-men/201901/is-trump-derangement-syndrome-real-mental-condition”

General Confusion
Member

“IF you dislike the United States that much, why do you keep up with the unfiltered BS and trying to shove your failed, pro-atheism Socialist/Communist crap on those of us who know better?” Confused James Why? Because I am not the one who is confused – you are. You don’t know better and, unfortunately, you don’t seem to have the capacity to learn why you don’t know better (because of your cognative biases, cultural and biological differences). In other words, you can’t and won’t change. The reason that I counter the constant nonsense posted on IJR is because I DON’T… Read more »

Phyllis Softa
Member

James, you know I adore you, BUT….WHY would you assume that I work for ANYONE simply because I want you to THINK about what YOU believe? HOW can you honestly conclude that it makes a lick of sense to believe China was paying the import tariffs Trump imposed??—Did you think the U.S. was paying the import tariffs China imposed in retaliation?? Tax cuts did not pay for themselves under Reagan, Bush, or even Brownback’s attempt to prove they would—but you still believed the R’s when they told you this time was different. Mnuchin has BORROWED $1 TRILLION in each of… Read more »

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