Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe

White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Meadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE said Thursday that the flow of security assistance to Ukraine was not conditioned on Kiev investigating a theory related to 2016 election interference, walking back statements he made earlier in the day.

Mulvaney issued a statement Thursday afternoon accusing the media of “misconstruing” his earlier remarks to the press at the White House “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE.”

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“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” Mulvaney said. “The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.” 

Mulvaney insisted the only reason security aid was held up was because the administration was reviewing whether other nations were contributing enough and out of concerns over corruption.

Mulvaney indicated earlier Thursday that the Trump administration had held up almost $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine in part because Trump wanted Kiev to investigate an unproven conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server in 2016. The theory diminishes Russia's involvement in the DNC hack. Trump's former homeland security adviser recently called the theory "completely debunked."

“Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that was it. That’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney told reporters at the earlier afternoon briefing.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate,” Mulvaney continued, suggesting Trump wanted assistance with an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department.

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDecentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response Feds distributing masks, other gear seized in price-gouging investigation to NY, NJ health care workers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All eyes on today's unemployment numbers MORE has ordered an inquiry into the FBI's original probe of 2016 Russian interference. Trump's critics view the investigation as an effort by the president to undermine the intelligence community's original finding that Moscow intervened to help him win.

Mulvaney also told reporters that there would be “political influence in foreign policy” and that they needed to “get over it.”

Hours later, Mulvaney reversed course from his earlier remarks, saying the “only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.” He blamed the media for misinterpreting his statements.

“Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately,” Mulvaney said in the statement. 

Mulvaney noted — as he did during the briefing — that security assistance was eventually released to Ukraine, something he framed as proof that it was not conditioned on Ukraine assisting in investigations related to the 2016 election.

“There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server,” Mulvaney continued.

“There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

Mulvaney’s remarks earlier in the day appeared to undercut Trump’s repeated pronouncements that there was “no quid pro quo” related to his conversations with Ukraine.

Trump encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a July 25 phone call to investigate an unproven theory about Kiev’s involvement in the DNC server hack as well as corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE.

Trump and his personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Biden campaign blasts Twitter for refusing to sanction retaliatory 'hoax' Trump ad Google to spend .5 million in fight against coronavirus misinformation MORE have repeatedly raised corruption allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter, without providing specific evidence of them. 

Mulvaney denied repeatedly during the briefing earlier Thursday that the security aid was tied to an effort to investigate the Bidens, something House Democrats are investigating as part of their impeachment inquiry.

Updated at 8:03 p.m.