Mick Mulvaney. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

A confidential internal review found White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney asked budget office officials for an "after-the-fact justification" for withholding aid to Ukraine, the Washington Post first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: The issue of blocking almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine is central to the impeachment inquiry, as House investigators examine allegations that President Trump ordered the move to press for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Details: The WashPost and New York Times report that the records review by the White House Counsel’s Office discovered that Mulvaney asked in an August email after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "whether there was a legal justification" for the move and for how long the military aid could be withheld.

  • The office examined hundreds of documents as part of its investigation, launched after House Democrats announced in September the impeachment inquiry, according to the Post. Per the news outlet:
"One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly."

What they're saying: Rachel Semmel, a budget office spokesperson, said in a statement to the WashPost and Times, "To be clear, there was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld in order to conduct the policy review. OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed."

The big picture: Trump has said he ordered withholding the aid to Ukraine so that European nations would contribute. He maintains there was no quid pro quo in his request to Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens.

  • Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia adviser, testified during last Thursday's impeachment hearing that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, had a "deal" with Mulvaney to engage in a quid pro quo with Ukraine using a coveted White House visit.
  • A lawyer for Mulvaney issued a statement casting doubt on Hill's testimony, which he called "speculative."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 19,734,428— Total deaths: 728,612 — Total recoveries — 12,001,537Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,036,387 — Total deaths: 162,851 — Total recoveries: 1,656,864 — Total tests: 61,792,571Map.
  3. Politics: Pelosi says states don't have the funds to comply with Trump's executive order on unemployment — Mnuchin says Trump executive orders were cleared by Justice Department.
  4. Public health: Ex-FDA head: U.S. will "definitely" see 200,000 to 300,000 virus deaths by end of 2020 — Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective.
  5. Schools: Nine test positive at Georgia school where photo showing packed hallway went viral — How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on.
22 mins ago - World

Protests erupt in Belarus after "Europe's last dictator" claims election victory

Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Demonstrations broke out across Belarus on Sunday after a government exit poll predicted that President Aleksander Lukashenko, an authoritarian who has ruled the Eastern European country since 1994, had swept to overwhelming victory over a pro-democracy opposition candidate.

Why it matters: It's a precarious moment for the former Soviet republic, where decades of repression and a complete disregard for the coronavirus pandemic now threaten to topple "Europe's last dictator."

Scoop: Inside Trump's debate prep

Trump and Christie. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Two weekends ago, President Trump met with a group of his closest aides in the conference room of his Bedminster golf club to discuss a subject that has been weighing heavily on his mind: the three scheduled debates with Joe Biden.

Behind the scenes: In the room with Trump were his son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who role-played Hillary Clinton in Trump's 2016 debate prep sessions.