Mulvaney links delay in Ukraine aid to DOJ investigation into 2016, then revises statement — live updates

 cbsnews.com  10/18/2019 10:05:00 

By Stefan Becket, Grace Segers and Kathryn Watson

/ CBS News

Mulvaney says delay in Ukraine aid linked to DOJ investigation

Key facts and latest news

  • The deposition of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who was asked to appear before lawmakers Friday, has been postponed until next Thursday.
  • At the White House Thursday, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said a delay in aid to Ukraine was due to concerns about corruption in the country and tied the delay to Ukraine's cooperation with a Justice Department investigation.
  • Later, Mulvaney issued a statement walking back his comments, claiming there was "absolutely no quid pro quo."
  • Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers Thursday he was "disappointed" by President Trump's directive to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine.
  • Congressman Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, has died at the age of 68. He was a key figure in the impeachment inquiry.
  • On a July call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

Washington -- The acting White House chief of staff said Thursday that a delay in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine over the summer was driven partly by a desire to pressure the country into cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into supposed Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mick Mulvaney described conversations with President Trump, paraphrasing him as saying, "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."

"Did he also mention to me in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that," Mulvaney said, referencing an unproven theory that Ukrainians framed Russians for hacking into the DNC's computer systems. "But that's it. That's why we held up the money."

Mulvaney reiterated the rationale later in the briefing: "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 support of the Ukraine and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."

After Mulvaney's briefing, a senior Justice Department official said the department was not aware of any connection between aid to Ukraine and the department's investigation into the origins of the 2016 counterintelligence probe.

"If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation with any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us," the official said.

Jay Sekulow, the president's outside counsel, also issued a terse statement in response to Mulvaney's comments about the delay of Ukraine aid, saying, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mike Mulvaney's press briefing."

Later Thursday, the White House released a statement from Mulvaney seeking to clarify his remarks, blaming the media for misconstruing his remarks and claiming "there never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server."

Earlier in the day, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told lawmakers he was "disappointed" that Mr. Trump had directed him and other diplomats managing U.S. policy toward Ukraine to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney.

"Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters," Sondland said in a statement prepared for his congressional testimony Thursday. "However, given the President's explicit direction, as well as the importance we attached to arranging a White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, we agreed to do as President Trump directed."

Sondland's testimony came as Washington was grappling with the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee and a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. The congressman, 68, had often clashed with Mr. Trump.

The deposition of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who was asked to appear before lawmakers Friday, has been postponed until next Thursday.-- Stefan Becket

--Paula Reid and Clare Hymes contributed reporting

7:08 a.m.: Friday is the deadline for Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to turn over documents related to Ukraine in accordance with a subpoena from the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry. The White House is not cooperating with the inquiry, so it is unlikely that Mulvaney will turn over the documents. Perry, who announced Thursday that he would be stepping down from his position, is also not expected to honor the subpoena.

Thursday, 6:00 p.m: Late Thursday afternoon, the White House issued a statement from Mulvaney walking back his earlier comments:

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. Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump's interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately. There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server.

There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.

Trump Impeachment Profit Players
In this May 9, 2019, file photo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on his future budget request, on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Thursday, 5:11 p.m.: Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who played a key role in managing the U.S. relationship with Ukraine, notified the president he intends to resign, two administration sources familiar with the matter tell CBS News.

Read more here.

Thursday, 2:53 p.m.: After Mulvaney's briefing, a senior Justice Department official said the department was not aware of any connection between aid to Ukraine and the department's investigation into the origins of the 2016 counterintelligence probe.

"If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation with any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us," the official said.

A person familiar with the reaction inside the department said officials were "utterly confused" and "angry" at Mulvaney for saying the aid was withheld in connection to an investigation. -- Clare Hymes

us-politics-mulvaney
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney answers questions from reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 17, 2019. JIM WATSON

Thursday, 1:38 p.m.: In a briefing Thursday, Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine was delayed because of concerns about corruption and in part, a desire to get Ukraine to cooperate with an internal Justice Department investigation into the origins of the 2016 U.S. counterintelligence probe into election interference.

Mulvaney, who was involved in delaying the aid package in July shortly before the president's call with the leader of Ukraine, said that the aid was contingent on Ukraine ensuring the money wouldn't be squandered by corruption. He seemed to acknowledge that the president had raised an unproven theory about the hacked DNC email server that had also played a part in the pause in aid. Mulvaney also said the U.S. wanted other European countries to contribute more to Ukraine's security.

"President Trump is not a big fan of foreign aid. Never has been, still isn't. Doesn't like spending money overseas, especially when it's poorly spent," Mulvaney said. "And that is exactly what drove this decision."

He described conversations with Mr. Trump, paraphrasing the president as saying, "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."

"Did he also mention to me in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. That's why we held up the money," Mulvaney said. The aid was eventually released in September under pressure from lawmakers.

Asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl to clarify whether the demand to investigate 2016 activities was part of the reason for withholding the aid, Mulvaney said, "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."

"What you just described is a quid pro quo," Karl replied. "It is, funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well."

"We do that all the time with foreign policy," Mulvaney said, adding, "I have news for everybody: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy ... That is going to happen. Elections have consequences." -- Stefan Becket

The committees leading the impeachment inquiry have a packed schedule of interviews next week. Here is their plan, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.

  • Tuesday, October 22: William Taylor, charge d'affaires in Ukrainian embassy
  • Wednesday, October 23: Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs
  • Thursday, October 24: Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs for the National Security Council
  • Friday, October 25: Suriya Jayanti, foreign service officer in Kiev, and Timothy Morrison, top Russia adviser for the National Security Council -- Rebecca Kaplan
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings has died


One of the key figures in the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats was Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, who died early Thursday morning due to ongoing health complications.

Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York will now fill in as acting chair. The Democratic caucus process to elect a permanent chair will be announced at a later time.

Cummings led multiple investigations into Mr. Trump's dealings, including some relating to the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and husband Jared Kushner, both of whom are serving as top advisers in the White House.

The president responded by criticizing Cummings' district as a "rodent-infested mess" where "no human being would want to live" over the summer.

According to The Baltimore Sun, Larry Hogan, the state's Republican governor, has 10 days to officially call for the special election, which will take place no earlier than 65 days after that, around late February.

First published on October 18, 2019 / 5:53 AM

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