Mulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Bolton lawyer slams 'corrupted' White House review process after book leak Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell MORE is finding himself on shaky ground following a pair of public appearances that produced more problems than solutions for his boss, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE.

The former South Carolina congressman’s ouster is not imminent, according to those familiar with his standing with the president, but he has drawn the ire of Trump’s allies.


Trump did not respond to shouted questions about his chief of staff’s fate during a Cabinet meeting on Monday. But Mulvaney got a warm reception during a senior staff meeting on Monday morning and sources say many inside the White House are still satisfied with him.

"Mick Mulvaney’s standing in the White House has not changed. He is still the Acting Chief of Staff and has the President’s confidence,"  White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in an email.

One source familiar with the mood internally said, "A lot of folks are still really happy with Mick."

But frustration has swelled over some of his public statements that put the White House and its Republican allies in a difficult position in recent days. 

Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading the administration’s legal defense against impeachment, are also said to be feuding. 

The firestorm began Thursday when Mulvaney took to the White House briefing room to announce Trump National Doral would host the Group of Seven (G-7) summit next year. He then took questions from reporters about the ongoing impeachment inquiry focused on the president’s request for Ukraine to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE.

Mulvaney said security aid to Ukraine was dependent partly on the country investigating a conspiracy theory undermining the conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. 

Given multiple chances to clarify, he instead repeated that there were three reasons for holding up the aid while insisting that the Bidens were not involved.

 “I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mulvaney said. “There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Within a few hours, Mulvaney issued a statement claiming he had not said what he told reporters and denying the existence of any quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Trump then reversed his decision to host the G-7 at Doral late Saturday, undermining the main reason his chief of staff had faced the press in the first place.

Mulvaney attempted to do damage control with an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” but struggled to clean up his remarks without causing new headaches. 

Mulvaney said Trump “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” a comment that raised eyebrows considering the widespread skepticism about the president’s connections to his business.

Mulvaney described two conditions for holding up aid after he had listed three during the press briefing. Anchor Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death Dershowitz: Democrats 'completely failed' to meet constitutional standard Yang on his wife's disclosure of sexual abuse: 'I felt like I'd failed her' MORE played video clips that contradicted Mulvaney’s defenses of his Ukraine remarks, undercutting his attempted defenses at times. 

Asked if he had offered to resign over last week’s briefing, Mulvaney said he had not.

“Absolutely, positively not. I’m very happy working there. Did I have the perfect press conference? No,” Mulvaney said. 

Trump has seemed to shy away from questions about his chief of staff in recent days. Trump said he had confidence in Mulvaney shortly after his press conference Thursday, and he told reporters Friday that Mulvaney had “clarified” the issue before pivoting to a discussion about his recent trip to Texas and Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. 

There has been little public support for Mulvaney from Trump allies and other members of the administration. 

“I think it’s probably somebody who didn’t know what they were talking about,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTax season could bring more refund confusion Graham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHere's how the US can pressure Lebanon's new government tackle corruption Trump questions why NPR exists after Pompeo clashes with reporter Senate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' MORE opted not to come to Mulvaney’s defense during his own television appearance on Sunday.

“I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Justice Department and Trump’s lawyer Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowGOP senator says idea that Ukraine interfered in US election is 'not a conspiracy theory' Cotton: Democrats are 'upset that their witnesses haven't said what they want them to say' George Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump MORE also sought to distance themselves from Mulvaney’s remarks last week. 

Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityHannity to interview Trump during Super Bowl pregame show GOP cries boredom in attack on impeachment case Hannity: 'Lunatic' Schiff 'the worst liar in all of politics' MORE called Mulvaney “dumb,” and Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonBannon says Trump should delay State of the Union until after impeachment trial Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers mull Trump's war power, next steps with Iran Authorities prepared to hand over Roger Stone records to media: report MORE, Trump’s former chief strategist, told the New York Post he didn’t feel “comfortable” when he saw Mulvaney and lamented the lack of coordination among those in the White House on impeachment messaging.

Mulvaney has served as chief of staff for 10 months without having the “acting” qualifier removed from his title, and there have been rumors of friction with Trump at times during his tenure.

But there is skepticism that his latest public gaffes will lead to his firing in the immediate future.

Mulvaney has some built-in advantages toward keeping his job, including his closeness to the president and the dearth of replacement candidates willing to take on the job.

Mulvaney is one of a handful of close confidantes Trump has in the top echelons of his White House staff. He has been part of the Cabinet since early 2017, first as director of the Office of Management and Budget and now as acting chief of staff.

The president tapped him for the role last December following a search to replace John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE that yielded several candidates who publicly turned down the job. It’s unlikely that any of those candidates — Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Meadows says Trump told him he didn't threaten senators on impeachment vote Impeachment trial to enter new phase with Trump defense MORE (R-N.C.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Nick Ayers, a former aide to Vice President Pence — would be interested this time around either.

Both of Mulvaney’s predecessors — Kelly and former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusReince Priebus joins CBS News as political analyst CNN hires former longtime CNBC correspondent John Harwood Former Trump staffer suing Trump, campaign over sex discrimination MORE — exited after tumultuous tenures in the Trump White House.

 “Being chief of staff is a very difficult position, and I don’t think you want to be in the business of having four chiefs of staff in less than three years,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “At this point the president is his own chief of staff anyway.”

Mulvaney’s departure would further complicate an already ineffective White House strategy of blocking current and former administration officials from cooperating with House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry.

The White House would have a difficult time claiming executive privilege over Mulvaney’s testimony if he were fired. As one of the president’s closest aides and someone involved in the Ukraine dealings, Mulvaney would prove a damaging witness.

“I’m sure he has his own detractors for whatever reason and those people love to pile on,” Nunberg said. “This is not the time to pile and have a public fight and dispute. This impeachment inquiry is not going anywhere. You will only make it worse.”

Jordain Carney contributed