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Mulvaney walks back claim that DNC investigation was reason for Ukraine aid freeze

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has walked back comments he made at a press conference Thursday about the Trump administration freezing military aid as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate a conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee server hacked by Russia in 2016.

The exchange:

ABC NEWS' JONATHAN KARL: 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 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.
KARL: That was a factor in withholding the money?
MULVANEY: Yeah. Which ultimately then flowed. ... We knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September or we had to have a really, really good reason not to do it — and that was the legality of the issue.
KARL: Let's be clear. What you just described is a quid pro quo. Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.
MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy. ... I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy. Elections have consequences.

The latest: Mulvaney said in a statement on Thursday evening that "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 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 server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption. ... There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.

Reality check: The assertion that the DNC's hacked server is in Ukraine is part of an easily debunked right-wing conspiracy theory that alleges that CrowdStrike, the first firm to publicly release evidence that Russia perpetrated the DNC hack, made up information to fuel the Russia investigation.

  • As Axios cybersecurity reporter Joe Uchill explains, there is no single server to hide in Ukraine. With modern computing, what people experience as a single server is actually dozens of different systems.
  • The FBI received a digital image of the servers — a complete record of what was on the unwieldy farm of physical computers. Physically obtaining the servers would provide no new information.

Why it matters: President Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry over allegations that he used congressionally approved military aid to pressure Ukraine to pursue politically motivated investigations.

  • Mulvaney denied that the investigation into Joe Biden and his family was one of the reasons for the aid freeze, but he acknowledged that Ukraine's willingness to find out what happened in 2016 was a factor.
  • Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU who was involved in Trump's and Rudy Giuliani's efforts to push Ukraine to pursue these investigations, testified on Thursday: "Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong."

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