Republican leader struggles to defend Mulvaney quid pro quo press conference remarks

One of President Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress struggled Friday to explain acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s conflicting statements during and after a press conference about whether the administration floated a quid pro quo to Ukrainian officials by which U.S. military aid would be given in exchange for an investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“I think you saw Mick Mulvaney clarify his statement,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters at a news conference. “He said, ‘Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukraine military aid and an investigation into the 2016 election.’”

McCarthy was then asked how the president could have confidence in Mulvaney if he “is going to say one thing in front of the cameras and then completely reverse it later.”

“I think what Mick clarified in his statement was very clear. I watched in all those transcripts of what people have been saying inside the investigation — Volker and others — there was no quid pro quo,” McCarthy said.

On Thursday, Mulvaney undercut Trump’s central defense of his months-long efforts to convince Kiev to launch an investigation into a conspiracy theory positing that a computer server belonging to the Democratic National Committee resided in Ukraine.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Friday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney told reporters in reference to conversations he had with Trump about Ukrainian corruption. “Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”

ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl noted that withholding $400 million in military aid in exchange for investigations into the U.S. election was, in fact, the very definition of quid pro quo, to which Mulvaney responded, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”

Following Mulvaney’s briefing, administration officials inside the Justice Department and the White House reacted with shock to the remarks, the Wall Street Journal reported. According to the report, Trump initially thought Mulvaney’s combative performance had gone over well, but was persuaded that his chief of staff needed to walk back his comments. Shortly thereafter, Mulvaney released a statement in which he reversed himself, saying, “There was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

At McCarthy’s Friday news conference, a reporter noted that Mulvaney “said one thing in the press conference, and the exact opposite in his statement,” and asked the House GOP leader, “So which one do you believe?”

“I think Mick Mulvaney clarified his statement to be very clear. I take Mick Mulvaney at his word for clarification,” McCarthy answered.

A third reporter then asked McCarthy whether Mulvaney’s press conference had helped the president’s defense that there had not been a quid pro quo floated to Ukrainian officials.

“I think Mick was very clear in cleaning up his statement,” McCarthy answered, “that there was no quid pro quo.”

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