Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged Thursday that he held up $390 million in security aid for Ukraine in order to pressure the country into pursuing a 2016 election probe being demanded by President Trump.
But in the latest odd twist in the Ukraine affair as the apparent televised acknowledgement of cash-for-probe pressure reverberated through Washington, Mulvaney issued a written statement Thursday evening denying the 'quid pro quo' he had seemed to confirm hours earlier.
'There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server,' Mulvaney said in his statement.
Hours earlier, Mulvaney had told White House reporters in a televised briefing that he had held up money to get Ukraine to look for a Democratic server - prompting House Democrats to say they were interested in questioning him in their impeachment probe. He is already facing a subpoena for documents.
But later, as frenzy over his apparent admission of a quid pro quo roiled Washington and news channels, Mulvaney said he had never done such a thing and attacked the media.
'Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,' he said in the statement.
'The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainian military aid 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,' he said.
His comments came after Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow released a dry statement that pointed out that Mulvaney is only 'acting' in his role, and said: 'The President’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing.'
Trump and top administration officials have vigorously denied any 'quid pro quo' with Ukraine following a whistleblower's report that the White House was demanding a probe of the Bidens as well as Trump's conspiracy theory that the DNC server might be in Ukraine's possession.
But Mulvaney on Thursday vigorously defended holding up the congressionally appropriated funding in order to get the Ukrainians to investigate a Demoratic server from 2016, telling critics: 'Get over it.'
In a rare White House briefing, Mulvaney denied any knowledge of a company linked to Hunter Biden – but said the money was in fact dangled to push what he called anti- 'corruption' efforts by Ukraine.
He said of President Trump: 'Did he also mention to me in [passing] that the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money.'
Mulvaney confirmed what Trump also said in a July phone call with the president of Ukraine: that he wanted an investigation related to the hacked Democratic National Committee Server. U.S. intelligence, the Mueller probe, and bipartisan congressional committees concluded that the Russians hacked Democratic servers. But Trump wants to explore an unproven theory that the Democratic server might be in Ukraine, where information came out that implicated his now jailed 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort.
'The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that [Trump] was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate,' said Mulvaney.
Pressed on holding up money to aid to get an investigation sought by the president, in a 'quid pro quo' for a probe of the DNC server, Mulvaney said: 'We do that all the time with foreign policy.'
'I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy,' Mulvaney said.
Asked again if that was why the funding got held up, Mulvaney said: 'Yeah.' Then he noted that it 'ultimately flowed' as required by the law and Congress.
Mulvaney also confirmed that the president ordered top officials to work with his private lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine.
'There was a May meeting and I think this is widely reported. [EU ambassador Gordon] Sondland mentioned it in his testimony and I'm pretty sure Rick Perry mentioned it yesterday … that in the May meeting in the Oval Office, that I was in, I think Senator [Ron] Johnson was there as well as Mr. [Kurt] Volker was there, the president asked Rick Perry to work with Mr. Giuliani,' he said.
Asked if he thought that was appropriate, he replied: 'I wasn't asked.'
'And the answer to your question is that the president told Rick Perry, who I think was sort of, you know -- the issue -- one of the reasons we were in there, we were talking about energy and Ukraine as an energy partner. We were trying to get Ukraine as an energy partner. And so the president said to Mr. Perry, go ahead and talk to Rudy' he said.
Democrats had seized on his public statements.
'I think Mr Mulvaney’s acknowledgement means that things have gone from very very bad to much much worse,' Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
A series of more junior Democrats had said he should now face questions.
Stephen Lynch, a member of the Oversight Committee, told The Hill: 'I'm sure a lot of people would like to hear from him.'
Giuliani, a vocal TV defender of the president during the Mueller probe, has been reported to be under a counterintelligence investigation dating back months related to his overseas work.
Two Giuliani associates were arrested this month and charged with campaign finance violations stemming from their efforts to cultivate politicians. Prosecutors allege they gave a contribution of more than $300,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC when the funds were actually financed by another source.
Mulvaney's statements were the latest to shed light on the multi-pronged effort to try to get Ukraine to take actions that a whistle-blower said were to promote President Trump's 2020 reelection.
U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sonland, was testifying behind closed doors Thursday about his personal phone interactions with Trump, who instructed him to work with Giuliani.
Mulvaney's comments came at a White House briefing where he announced that the next G7 meeting for world leaders will be held at the president's private golf club in Miami.