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White House official denied implicating Trump in 'quid pro quo'

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney last week appeared to say aid to Ukraine was tied to Kiev opening a probe into the Democrats.  Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Jim Watson

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, insisted Sunday that he did not implicate President Trump in a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, after stating last week that the United States' decision to withhold military aid to the country was connected to President Trump's demand that it probe the Democratic National Committee and 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Mulvaney on Thursday appeared to reference an unconfirmed theory about a Ukrainian link to the Russian hacking of DNC servers in 2016. "The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he [President Donald Trump] was worried about in corruption with that nation," Mulvaney told reporters Thursday in the White House briefing room.

"Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that," Mulvaney said. "That's why we held up the money."

Mulvaney's comments had appeared to weaken the president's defense in the impeachment inquiry against him. Trump has denied that he demanded a quid pro quo to Ukraine in which the United States would hold back American military aid in exchange for a government investigation that could help Trump politically.

Later Thursday, Mulvaney said in a statement "the president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.”

Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday that he hadn't held a "perfect press conference." But he insisted, "my language never said quid pro quo."

"That's not what I said. That's what people said I said," Mulvaney told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

Mulvaney also said in the Fox News interview, "there was never any connection between the flow of money and the server."

Asked by Wallace if he ever thought to resign over his remarks at the news conference, Mulvaney said, "absolutely not."

Also Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on ABC's "This Week" addressed criticism from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who said last week the United States cannot withhold foreign aid "previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period." 

Pompeo told ABC "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos that he "never saw that in the decision-making process that I was a part of."

Pompeo continued, "The conversation was always around, what were the strategic implications? Would that money get to the right place, or would there be corruption in Ukraine, and the money wouldn't flow to the mission that it was intended for? How do we protect that?"

Asked further about Mulvaney's remarks, Pompeo said: "I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended."

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