Mulvaney Explains Military Aid Hold-Up for Ukraine: Trump 'Doesn't Like Spending Money Overseas'

Susan Jones | October 18, 2019 | 5:54am EDT
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White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney answers questions from reporters during a press briefing at the White House on October 17, 2019. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

(Following his news conference, Mulvaney issued a statement pushing back on reports that he admitted to a quid pro quo involving Ukraine, i.e., U.S. military aid in exchange for Ukraine's cooperation with the ongoing 2016 election-corruption investigation.

“Let me be clear," Mulvaney wrote, "there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the (DNC) server.”)

( - Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told a news conference on Thursday there was nothing nefarious about holding up congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine.

"President Trump is not a big fan of foreign aid, never has been, still isn't," Mulvaney said:

Doesn't like spending money overseas, especially when it's poorly spent, and that is exactly what drove this decision.

I've been in the office a couple times with him talking about this. He said look, Mick, this (Ukraine) is a corrupt place. Everybody knows it's a corrupt place. By the way, put this in context. This is on the heels of what happened in Puerto Rico when we took a lot of heat for not wanting to give a bunch aid to Puerto Rico because we thought that place was corrupt. And by the way, turns out we were right. So put that as your context.

He'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 the money--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. You've heard the president say this, that we give them tanks and the other countries give them pillows. That's absolutely right, that 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 that was--those were the driving factors. Did he also mention to me in the past the--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.

A reporter followed up: "So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered (the White House) to withhold funding to Ukraine?"

Mulvaney responded that "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."

The reporter tried again: "But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is, funding will not flow unless the investigation into the--into the Democratic server happened as well."

"We do that all the time with foreign policy," Mulvaney responded. "We were holding up 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 -- so that they would change their policies on immigration."

'There's going to be political influence in foreign policy'

Mulvaney noted that one of the witnesses called to testify before the House intelligence committee reportedly said that he was 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 is going to be political influence in foreign policy."

That is going to happen. Elections have consequences, and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. And what you're seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career politi -- career bureaucrats who are saying, you know what, I don't like President Trump's politics, so I'm going to participate in this witch hunt that they're undertaking on the Hill.

Elections do have consequences, and they should. And your foreign policy is going to change. Obama did it in one way. We're doing it a different way, and there is no problem with that.

A reporter asked Mulvaney, "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 pointed to the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe now being conducted by Connecticut Attorney General John Durham at the request of Attorney General William Barr:

"That's an ongoing investigation, right?" Mulvaney asked. "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--that's--that's just bizarre to me that you would think that you can't do that."

Asked again about Trump's mention of the Bidens, Mulvaney said, "No, the money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden."

"I was involved with the--the process by which the money was held up temporarily, okay?" Mulvaney explained. "Three issues for that; the corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine, and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."

Mulvaney told reporters he was not on the Trump-Zelensky phone call, although someone in his office was. "No one raised any difficulty with me on the call at all. I understand that, in fact, no one on the call in here thought there was any difficulty with it."

As for Rudy Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine, Mulvaney said, "That's the president's call."

"You may not like the fact that--that Giuliani was involved. That's great. That's fine. It's not illegal. It's not impeachable. The president gets to use who he wants to use....The president gets to set foreign policy and he gets to choose who to do so. As long as it doesn't violate any law, okay, and he doesn't violate any laws regarding confidential information or classified material, anything like that, the president gets to use who he wants."


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