WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, tried again Sunday to back off assertions he made to reporters last week that the Trump administration had held up an aid package to Ukraine because the president wanted the country to investigate Democrats, acknowledging he did not have a “perfect press conference.”
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney disagreed with an assertion by the show’s anchor, Chris Wallace, that Mulvaney’s remarks were proof of a quid pro quo, an exchange the president has publicly denied for weeks. But he struggled to explain how his comments Sunday were not at odds with what he said last week.
“That’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that,” Mulvaney said, adding that he had outlined “two reasons” for withholding the aid to Ukraine in a news briefing with reporters Thursday. In the briefing, however, he outlined three reasons: the corruption in the country, whether other countries were also giving aid to Ukraine and whether Ukrainian officials were cooperating in a Justice Department investigation.
Wallace played back Mulvaney’s appearance before reporters in which he said the president’s concern about interference in the 2016 election — and his interest in a widely debunked theory that a Democratic National Committee server is being held in Ukraine — was part of that final reason for withholding aid.
Pressed by Wallace, Mulvaney said he was “not acknowledging there’s three reasons.”
“You said three reasons,” Wallace said.
“I recognize that,” Mulvaney responded. But he urged Wallace “to go back to what actually happened in the real world.”
“I recognize that I didn’t speak clearly, maybe, on Thursday,” he said. “Folks misinterpreted what I said. But the facts are absolutely clear, and they are there for everyone to see.” He said there could not have been a quid pro quo because “the money flowed without any connection whatsoever to the DNC server.”
Mulvaney’s comments last week set off alarm at the White House and among its Republican allies in Congress, as a Democratic impeachment inquiry over Ukraine gathers steam.
But Mulvaney doubled down Sunday on his assertion that the president had a right to demand information about the investigation into the unfounded theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was involved in hacking and releasing Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election.
“It is legitimate for the president to want to know what’s going on with the ongoing investigation into the server,” Mulvaney said. “Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely.”
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, declined Sunday to weigh in on Mulvaney’s news conference.
“I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mulvaney, who initially held the explosive news conference to announce the site for the Group of 7 summit, also acknowledged that President Trump had made “the right decision to change” the host location from his Trump National Doral resort after bipartisan backlash. Trump announced Saturday that the summit would no longer be held there, after being “honestly surprised by the level of pushback,” Mulvaney said.
“At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” Mulvaney said of the president. “He saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders around the world and wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit, that he possibly could, and he was very comfortable doing it at Doral.”
“My guess is we’ll find some place else that the media won’t like either for another reason,” he added. “Will we end up putting on an excellent G-7 someplace else? Yes, we will.”