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Mulvaney Acknowledges Assistance To Ukraine Was Tied To Investigating Corruption


We begin with a surprising admission from the White House. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney gave a press conference today in which he confirmed a key fact at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Mulvaney admitted that the administration withheld aid to Ukraine until that country agreed to launch specific corruption investigations. We're joined now by White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Hey there, Ayesha.


CORNISH: Help us understand or tease out what Mulvaney confirmed today.

RASCOE: So one of the key things he confirmed was that he was a part of this decision-making process to hold up military aid to Ukraine. And he talked about the reasons for that. He said it was an order to force Ukraine to address corruption.

And also, he talked about having them address this conspiracy theory that has been floating around from President Trump and others, without evidence, that the DNC server - involving the DNC server and basically saying that Russia somehow was not involved in meddling in the 2016 election. This isn't backed up by any U.S. intelligence agencies.

But Mulvaney said that this was something that he wanted Ukraine to look into. And he did say that this wasn't focusing on political opponents like Biden and that aid wasn't held up over that. Here's some more of what he had to say.


MICK MULVANEY: I was involved with the process by which the money was held up temporarily, OK. 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.

RASCOE: And when he talked about that ongoing investigation, this was the thing involving the DNC server. But now Mulvaney is kind of walking that back. He's saying that this money was not held up for anything related to that investigation about the server in Ukraine. He's now saying that wasn't the case. Obviously, his words were different during the press conference, and he didn't make that very clear during the press conference.

CORNISH: Another point of focus has been Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and the work Giuliani had been doing in Ukraine. Many of the officials who've testified have talked about the concerns that they had about his role. What did Mulvaney have to say about that?

RASCOE: He said this is the president's decision. It doesn't matter whether officials like it or not. The president can delegate to who he wants as long as he follows the law. Mulvaney then criticized some of the career officials who had been testifying before the House impeachment inquiry. He's saying that they're motivated by policy differences, not whether the president's behavior was appropriate. Here's some more on that.


MULVANEY: I have news for everybody - get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy. I'm talking to Mr. Karl (ph). That is going to happen. Elections have consequences. And foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.

CORNISH: Now, what Mulvaney is saying would seem to go directly against the White House's argument that this whole impeachment inquiry is baseless. Why do you think Mulvaney would then stand in front of this group of reporters and say what he did?

RASCOE: It's hard to say, but the administration knew that he was going to get these questions. And this has been a week when current and former officials were painting this picture of how the president and his aides basically acted to advance Trump's political goals. And this seemed to be their effort to argue that what they did was standard and to try to make this seem like this was just the way things are in a White House. It's a standard operating procedure.

But there seem to be some issues, and that's why Mulvaney is coming back and trying to clarify exactly what he meant. But Trump really likes to see his staff defending him in front of the press, and so that might have been part of the reason why he was out there.

CORNISH: I understand that Mulvaney didn't just make news about Ukraine. There was also news about the next G-7 summit which is supposed to be held at the golf course at President Trump's resort near Miami. What's going on there?

RASCOE: Yeah. So Mulvaney says that Trump won't profit from this and that they're doing it at cost. He said that this was Trump's idea and that he acknowledged that people are concerned about this. But he said the president wanted to go ahead with this anyway because they felt like it was the best place to hold it.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Thank you.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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