One of President Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress struggled Friday to explain acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s conflicting statements during and after a press conference about whether the administration floated a quid pro quo to Ukrainian officials by which U.S. military aid would be given in exchange for an investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I think you saw Mick Mulvaney clarify his statement,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters at a news conference. “He said, ‘Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukraine military aid and an investigation into the 2016 election.’”
McCarthy was then asked how the president could have confidence in Mulvaney if he “is going to say one thing in front of the cameras and then completely reverse it later.”
“I think what Mick clarified in his statement was very clear. I watched in all those transcripts of what people have been saying inside the investigation — Volker and others — there was no quid pro quo,” McCarthy said.
On Thursday, Mulvaney undercut Trump’s central defense of his months-long efforts to convince Kiev to launch an investigation into a conspiracy theory positing that a computer server belonging to the Democratic National Committee resided in Ukraine.
“Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney told reporters in reference to conversations he had with Trump about Ukrainian corruption. “Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announces that the G7 will be held at Trump National Doral, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney answers questions during a briefing at the White House October 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. Mulvaney answered a range of questions relating to the issues surrounding the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump, and other issues during the briefing. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney arrives to answer questions from reporters during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 08: White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks to members of the media after a House Republican Conference meeting September 8, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. Mulvaney was on the Hill to push for the Trump Administration's Hurricane Harvey relief and debt limit package. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), holds up what he described as U.S. President Barack Obama regulations during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Mulvaney has called Trump's tax-cutting approach to the economy MAGAnomics, a spin on Trump's campaign slogan, 'Make America Great Again' and has repeatedly attacked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for its estimates on the impact of Republicans' plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, speaks about 'MAGAnomics' during the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, July 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney testifies during a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the Office of Management and Budget on Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - Budget Director for President Donald Trump, Mick Mulvaney explains and defends the administration's 2018 budget to the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Wednesday May 24, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 24: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney testifies before a House Budget Committee hearing in Longworth Building titled 'The President's FY2018 Budget' on May 24, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Mick Mulvaney, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), listens during a House Budget Committee hearing on U.S. President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposal in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Trump would dramatically reduce the U.S. government's role in society with $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years in a budget plan that shrinks the safety net for the poor, recent college graduates and farmers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds a news conference to discuss the Trump Administration's proposed FY2017 federal budget in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Calling it a 'New Foundation for American Greatness,' the $4.1 trillion budget for would cut programs for the poor, including health care, food stamps, student loans and disability payments while offering big tax cuts for the wealthy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mick Mulvaney, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, center, holds a volume of the fiscal year 2018 budget while speaking with Davita Vance-Cooks, director of the Government Publishing Office (GPO), left, during a tour of the GPO production facility in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 19, 2017. Presidentï¿½Donald Trumpï¿½will send to Congress on Tuesday a proposal for balancing the federal budget within 10 years through deep cuts to discretionary and safety net spending, according to a U.S. official. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (R) walks into the briefing room with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (L) and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly (C), to brief the media on President Trump's budget, at the White House (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), right, speaks as Gray Davis, former governor of California, listens during the Leaders In Global Healthcare and Technology (LIGHT) conference at Stanford University in Stanford, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The LIGHT conference gathers leaders from a broad cross-section of executives and top policy makers in the health-care field to discuss the latest developments, challenges and opportunities shaping the healthcare industry. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney arrives for a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mulvaney took questions about President Donald Trump's federal budget blueprint which was released Thursday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L) and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney talk to reporters following the release of the Congressional Budget Office report on the proposed American Health Care Act outside the White House West Wing March 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Price said 'We disagree strenuously' with the findings of the CBO report about the Republican's attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US Vice President Mike Pence (R) delivers remarks before swearing in Mick Mulvaney (L) as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 16: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (C) Mick Mulvaney (L), swears as new Office of Management and Budget Director, as his wife Pam Mulvaney holds a bible during a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 4: Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., left, and Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., attend a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Rayburn Building titled Semi-Annual Testimony on the Federal Reserves Supervision and Regulation of the Financial System,' November 4, 2015. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl noted that withholding $400 million in military aid in exchange for investigations into the U.S. election was, in fact, the very definition of quid pro quo, to which Mulvaney responded, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Following Mulvaney’s briefing, administration officials inside the Justice Department and the White House reacted with shock to the remarks, the Wall Street Journal reported. According to the report, Trump initially thought Mulvaney’s combative performance had gone over well, but was persuaded that his chief of staff needed to walk back his comments. Shortly thereafter, Mulvaney released a statement in which he reversed himself, saying, “There was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”
At McCarthy’s Friday news conference, a reporter noted that Mulvaney “said one thing in the press conference, and the exact opposite in his statement,” and asked the House GOP leader, “So which one do you believe?”
“I think Mick Mulvaney clarified his statement to be very clear. I take Mick Mulvaney at his word for clarification,” McCarthy answered.
A third reporter then asked McCarthy whether Mulvaney’s press conference had helped the president’s defense that there had not been a quid pro quo floated to Ukrainian officials.
“I think Mick was very clear in cleaning up his statement,” McCarthy answered, “that there was no quid pro quo.”