A stunning admission on Thursday from a top aide to President Donald Trump marked a ajor moment in the impeachment inquiry.
The President’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, just contradicted his boss in an epic and unexpected way, by saying that getting Ukraine to investigate Democrats was a factor in holding up hundreds of millions in aid.
What you’re describing is a quid pro quo, a reporter told Mulvaney. To which Mulvaney answered: “We do — we do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Later, Mulvaney tried to walk it all back in a written statement.
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
Trump has been denying quid pro quo
Trump has spent weeks saying there was no quid pro quo between him and Ukrainians; that he did not demand an investigation of Hunter Biden’s former company or the origins of the Mueller report in exchange for nearly $400 million in aid.
This is what Trump said YESTERDAY
“There was no quid pro quo,” Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office, one representative example of the thing he’s repeated like a mantra.
What was Mulvaney thinking?
A new strategy
When asked about the decision to withhold aid from Ukraine, Mulvaney told reporters: “The money that was held up had nothing to do with Biden.”
“I was involved in the process by which the money was held up temporarily, OK? Three issues for that: The corruption in the country, whether or not they were participating with supporting Ukraine and whether or not they are cooperating with an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice,” he said. “That’s completely legitimate.”
A flawed strategy
The strategy ignores the fact that Trump repeatedly mentioned the Bidens during the call with Zelensky. Perez notes the strategy caught a lot of the President’s allies by surprise.
In an unusual statement expressing public distance from the White House, a senior Justice Department official responded: “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.”
Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow told CNN’s Jim Acosta: “The legal team was not involved in the acting chief of staff’s press briefing.”
Is quid pro quo necessary for impeachment?
Nope. At least not according to a lot of Democrats, who have said the simple and obvious fact that Trump pressured and invited foreign leaders to investigate his rival’s family is illegal, since he asked a foreigner for something of political value to him. That in itself could meet the constitutional test of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The pressure may be enough.
“The reality is, as much as there’s a lot of focus on a quid pro quo, I just want to remind everyone, you do not need a quid pro quo. The United States asking a foreign leader to interfere in an American presidential election is illegal, un-American, unpatriotic and in it of itself constitutes grounds for impeachment,” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat.
Trump will host the G7 at his struggling golf course, a new test for the Constitution
Mulvaney also answered questions Thursday about Trump’s decision to host leaders from the world’s most industrialized democracies at his struggling golf course in Doral, Florida. The formal decision comes the same week that an appeals court revived a lawsuit about whether foreigners staying at the Trump hotel in DC breaks the Constitution’s emoluments clause. It’s a good reminder that while everyone is focused on Ukraine, the Trump presidency tests the Constitution every day in new ways.
Fallout from a clash at the White House between Trump and Pelosi also continued. He posted a photo of her standing up to him during a meeting at the White House Wednesday. It’s a remarkable image of a tense moment as Trump’s aides look away and Pelosi stares him down. She said Thursday she was probably telling him that his foreign policy always seems to benefit Vladimir Putin. In this case, the US abandoning Kurds helps Putin’s ally, Syria.
He tweeted the photo accusing her of having a meltdown, but she fired back that he was the one who had a meltdown and she was worried about his mental health. That might be dismissed as overheated rhetoric, but it shouldn’t, writes Chris Cillizza.
Key witness: Sondland breaks with Trump
Today on the Impeachment Watch podcast, CNN Political Director David Chalian dove into the testimony of US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland before House impeachment investigators. Chalian talked to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider and CNN reporter and producer Marshall Cohen.
- The ambassador, a GOP donor, wasn’t aware until “much later” that Giuliani’s agenda might have included an effort to “prompt the Ukrainians” to investigate the Bidens.
- He said he was “disappointed” that Trump wouldn’t commit to a meeting sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until they spoke with Giuliani
A few more things
A top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbul, had been scheduled to testify before House investigators. But that testimony may be on ice. Stay tuned.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.