At a press briefing on Thursday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney took part in the Trump administration tradition of saying the quiet part loud when he admitted to a quid pro quo in Ukraine: “Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
Though the president himself has spent moments of the impeachment crisis announcing his intention to commit high-crime offenses on the White House lawn, Trump did not like Mulvaney’s public admission. “He was not happy,” an administration source told CNN. Nor were White House lawyers or Trump’s personal legal team; his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, quickly issued a note saying that he “was not involved in the Acting Chief of Staff’s press briefing.” Later that day, Mulvaney walked the statement back, to limited effect. (Fellow administration members were also hesitant to come to his side: “I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.)
In his appearance on Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney did his best to not fall into the same fiasco of truth-telling, dodging as Chris Wallace tried to get him to repeat his claim from October 17 that there were three reasons for withholding aid to Ukraine: “the corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine, and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice.” On Fox News, Mulvaney attempted to cut out that third reason — that military aid was dependent on Ukraine investigating an effort by a Democratic operative during the 2016 election to learn more about Paul Manafort’s dealings in the country.
Mulvaney: “I’m not acknowledging there were three reasons.”
Wallace: “You said three reasons.”
Mulvaney: “I recognize that.”
According to a report from CNN, the botched quid pro quo admission may not be the only job stressor in Mulvaney’s role as acting chief of staff: Prior to the impeachment crisis, aides for Jared Kushner had feelers out for two potential replacements. At least the ex-wonk is most likely secure in his other full-time gig, as director of the Office of Management and Budget.