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Mulvaney attempts to clean up comments on Ukraine quid pro quo

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday" that reporters misinterpreted comments he made on Oct. 17 about President Trump conditioning $400 million in aid to Ukraine on its government opening political investigations.

The exchange:

MULVANEY: "You've again said, just a few seconds ago, that I said there was a quid pro quo. Never use that language, because there is not a quid pro quo."
CHRIS WALLACE: "You were asked by Jonathan Karl, 'You've described a quid pro quo,' and you said, 'That happens all the time.'"
MULVANEY: "Reporters will use their language all the time, so my language never said quid pro quo. But let's get back to the heart of the matter. Go back and look at that list of the three things. What was I talking about? Things that it was legitimate for the president to do. No. 1, it is legitimate for the president to want to know what's going on with the ongoing investigation into the server. Everyone acknowledges that. ... No. 2, it is legitimate to tie the aid to corruption. It is legitimate to tie the aid to foreign aid from other countries. That's what I was talking about with the three. Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo because there isn't."

The big picture: House Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump over allegations that he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden.

  • In his press conference, Mulvaney emphasized that Biden was never part of the calculus in suspending the military aid, but he said that Ukraine's willingness to investigate a conspiracy theory involving a Democratic Party computer server was certainly a factor.

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.

The big picture: Mulvaney's comments elicited widespread shock and claims that Trump's top aide had publicly admitted to a quid pro quo.

  • Later that day, Mulvaney said in a statement: "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."
  • Mulvaney told Wallace that he "absolutely" did not offer Trump his resignation after the press conference: "I'm very happy working there. Did I have the perfect press conference? No. But again, the facts are on our side."

Go deeper: Trump's shout-it-out-loud strategy for allegations of illegality