A top White House official admitted on Thursday that President Donald Trump had tied military aid for Ukraine to Kiev undertaking an investigation that would help Mr. Trump politically, adding ammunition to Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s stunning admission supports a key allegation in the House impeachment effort, that the President illicitly sought foreign political help as he seeks re-election next year.
Mr. Mulvaney said it was true that Mr. Trump used the aid to prod Kiev in July to investigate the allegation — widely viewed as groundless — that the Democratic National Committee had hidden a computer server in Ukraine that would undermine claims that Mr. Trump’s 2016 election victory was helped by Russian meddling.
Mr. Trump did not want to send nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine because the country was deeply corrupt, Mr. Mulvaney said. “Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that,” Mr. Mulvaney told reporters.
“That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”
‘From bad to worse’
The admission appeared to support Democrats’ charges that Mr. Trump abused his power and violated election laws.
“Mulvaney just said that U.S. military aid for Ukraine was held up pending Ukraine’s investigation of Democrats,” tweeted Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who is leading the impeachment inquiry. “Things just went from very, very bad to much, much worse,” he said.
But Mr. Mulvaney argued that Trump had done nothing wrong, because he acted in support of a Justice Department probe into the origins of 2016 Russian meddling allegations.
And Mr. Mulvaney denied that Mr. Trump also tied the aid to Ukraine investigating a top Democratic rival, Joe Biden, ahead of the 2020 vote.
That Biden allegation is the other key leg of Democrats’ charges against Mr. Trump. “The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden,” he said.
Mr. Mulvaney’s comments added to a dramatic day in which a senior diplomat told Congressional investigators that Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought political help from Ukraine, and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was also deeply involved in Ukraine talks, reportedly submitted his resignation.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, said in written testimony that Mr. Trump ordered diplomats in May to involve Mr. Giuliani in talks with new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr. Giuliani, he said, sought to pressure Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden and Mr. Biden’s son over ties to a Ukraine energy company, Burisma, as well as to find evidence for the 2016 Democratic server theory. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma for five years until April this year.
“Mr Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president,” Mr. Sondland said.
“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he said.