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Mulvaney attempts to walk back quid pro quo comments

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

'That's what people said I said'

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is normally tapped to make the Sunday show rounds to defend President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks and policies, but this Sunday, Mulvaney was looking to clean up his own comments after admitting in a news conference days earlier that Trump indeed withheld U.S. military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Mulvaney, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," insisted his comments at a Thursday news briefing were not an admission of “quid pro quo” in the release of $400 million in aid to Ukraine.

“That's not what I said. That's what people said I said,” Mulvaney told host Chris Wallace, saying reporters misconstrued his words as Trump faces a House Democratic-led impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine.

For a refresher, when asked Thursday at a White House news briefing why the military funding appropriated by Congress to Ukraine was withheld by Trump in the first place, it was Mulvaney who at the tail end of a lengthy explanation brought up Trump’s concerns that Ukraine was somehow tied to the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 hacked emails. Conspiracy theorists have floated an unsubstantiated claim that it was Ukraine, not Russia, behind the hacked emails, a claim embraced by the president, but one that has repeatedly been debunked.

"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, and that's why we held up the money," Mulvaney said last week, later adding that "we do that all the time with foreign policy.”

Wallace, replaying Mulvaney’s comments from Thursday, pushed back, telling him: “Mick, you know, I hate to go through this, but you said what you said."

Mulvaney told Wallace the prospect of resigning never came up in his conversations with Trump since Thursday, but CNN reports that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner floated the idea of replacing Mulvaney several weeks ago. For a recap of Mulvaney’s interview, read Newsday’s story by Scott Eidler.

'Game, set, match on that'

Despite Mulvaney’s attempts to walk back his Thursday remarks, at least one Republican lawmaker was not buying it.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) told CNN: “I don't see how you walk back something that's clear ... I would say game, set, match on that.”

Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hemmed and hawed his way through a televised interview on the topic, saying he wouldn't discussed "hypotheticals," and that when it came to Trump's clear Ukraine arms-for-dirt trade-off, "I never saw that." 

The hotelier-in-chief

Mulvaney continued his interview with Wallace by defending Trump’s initial decision to host next year’s G-7 summit at his golf resort in South Florida, reports Newsday's Eidler.

The initial decision, announced by Mulvaney on Thursday, sparked an immediate backlash from both sides of the aisle and government ethics groups, all describing the move as corrupt and possibly a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Trump on Saturday announced he would no longer host the world’s top leaders at his Doral resort.

On Sunday, Mulvaney said the furor “surprised” Trump, though days earlier he said Trump anticipated criticism and was “willing to take that.

“At the end of the day, you know, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world, and he wanted to put the absolute best show,” Mulvaney told Wallace.

Wallace shot back with a reminder that Trump has a different gig to prioritize these days: “He's the president of the United States.”

Trump, on Twitter, blamed “both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility” for his decision to hold the summit elsewhere, but a growing number of Republicans had raised concerns about Trump’s choice, and several GOP lawmakers reached out to the White House urging Trump to reverse course on a decision they said was indefensible, according to The Washington Post.

Trump reportedly called into a meeting Mulvaney convened with moderate House Republicans at Camp David on Saturday, and they all advised him against using the Doral site, according to The New York Times. “I didn’t see it being a big negative, but it certainly wasn’t a positive,” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), one of the meeting attendees, told the Times. King said the group told Trump’s aides that sticking with Doral “would be a distraction.”

Middle East moves

Trump has repeatedly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria as delivering on his campaign pledge to bring American troops home from the Middle East, but The Associated Press reports that the majority of troops that were in Syria are simply being repositioned in other parts of the region including western Iraq.

The president is also reportedly considering a plan by the Pentagon to leave at least 200 U.S. troops in Syria, according to The New York Times.

As Trump continues to face a wave of bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and former military leaders over his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of House Democrats and at least one House Republican to meet with officials in Jordan and Afghanistan to discuss tensions there.

“With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia,” Pelosi said in a statement after meeting with King Abdullah II and senior Jordanian officials Saturday night. Pelosi's office issued a statement late Sunday that the delegation also traveled to Afghanistan to meet with officials in Kabul.

Turkey President Recep Erdogan, to whom Trump has deferred on Syria despite sending him strange warning letters, meanwhile seems to seek nuclear weapons

Trump took to Twitter to slam Pelosi’s diplomatic mission.

"Pelosi is now leading a delegation of 9, including Corrupt Adam Schiff, to Jordan to check out Syria. She should find out why Obama drew The Red Line In the Sand, & then did NOTHING, losing Syria & all respect. I did something, 58 missiles. One million died under Obama’s mistake!" Trump tweeted.

The president was referring to former President Barack Obama’s pledge to strike against the Syrian government if it used chemical weapons. Obama retreated from that vow. In April 2018, Trump responded to reports of another Syrian government chemical attack against civilians, by joining with France in ordering an airstrike against a critical Syrian military air base.

Janison: A slogan for all

By accident, Mulvaney hit the viral-video jackpot Thursday when he said military aid to Ukraine had been held up as part of an administration drive to exhume Democratic computer information from the old Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

"We do that all the time with foreign policy," Mulvaney said when a reporter tried to clarify how transactional this was. The administration also used aid to three Central American countries to arouse pressure on their immigration policies.

"Get over it," Mulvaney said. "There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy."

What a great slogan. It's the very message supporters of Trump have flung at Democrats since he won the 2016 election. His campaign now sells “Get over it” T-shirts.

But anyone can use it, and Janison has some suggestions in his column for how Democrats can apply the “Get over it” slogan.

What else is happening:

  • The Trump campaign spent nearly $2.3 million on Facebook and Google ads in the week the impeachment inquiry was first announced, just a fraction of what the campaign has spent overall heading into the 2020 race, according to The New York Times.
  • Trump won Staten Island in 2016, but the borough’s congressional seat flipped blue in 2018. As the impeachment inquiry presses ahead, The Washington Post asked some Staten Island voters to weigh in.
  • Wallace said a “well-connected” Republican told him there’s a “20% chance” Republican lawmakers side with Democrats and vote to impeach Trump.
  • Ivanka Trump was part of the long-established misrepresentations involved in selling the real estate projects of her family's business, ProPublica and WNYC report
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the House Oversight Committee chairman who died last week, will lie in state in National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, ahead of a funeral service.
  • Pelosi's brother died Sunday morning, reports The Associated Press. Thomas D’Alesandro III, a former Baltimore mayor, was 90.
  • Sen. Mitt Romney has been using the Twitter handle "Pierre Delecto."

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