Mick Mulvaney’s presser, a closer look

I want to take another look at Mick Mulvaney’s presser — the one that Democrats and the mainstream media claim nails down the existence of a quid pro quo arrangement between President Trump and Ukraine (or offer thereof) involving U.S. military aid. My previous post focused on the fact that if Mulvaney was talking about a quid pro quo, it wasn’t military aid in exchange for conducting an investigation of the Bidens. Rather it was military aid for cooperating with an investigation of Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election campaign.

I argued that even if such a pro quid quo was offered, it wasn’t corrupt because investigating foreign involvement in our election is a legitimate national interest.

In this post, I want to look more closely at whether Mulvaney confessed to any quid pro quo. Having listened more closely to what Mulvaney said, it’s not clear that he did.

Mulvaney cited two reasons for the holding up of military aid to Ukraine: (1) lack of a contribution by European countries and (2) corruption in Ukraine. Then he added:

Did [Trump] also mention to me in past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.

Previously, instead of transcribing “in past,” I transcribed “in passing.” But on further review, it sounds like Mulvaney said “in past.” I assume he meant to say “in the past.”

Thus, Mulvaney was telling reporters that Trump initially withheld the aid because of lack of European participation and because of corruption. The “DNC server” was merely something Trump had mentioned in the past as an example of the corruption that concerned him.

This is not a confession by Mulvaney that, when aid was withheld, there was a quid pro quo involving investigating the DNC, a server, and/or interference in the 2016 election. It is not a confession that Trump wanted to pressure Ukraine into investigating matters relevant to the 2016 election, or anything else.

This, though, was not the end of discussion. A reporter followed up by saying/asking, “So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason why [Trump] ordered to withhold funding to the Ukrainians?”

Mulvaney did not adopt that statement. Instead, he said, “the look back to what happened in 2016 was part of the thing he was worried about in corruption with that nation.”

The reporter then said, “withholding the funding.” Mulvaney said “yeah, which ultimately then flowed.”

At this point, Mulvaney still has not said that there was a quid pro quo in connection with an investigation. All he has said is (1) that the funding was withheld because of (a) lack of European participation and (b) Ukrainian corruption and (2) that what Ukraine did (or might have done) relating to 2016 was part of the corruption concern.

A reporter then claimed, erroneously, that Mulvaney has described a quid pro quo:

Let’s be clear. What you have just described in a quid pro quo. It is ‘funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.’

Mulvaney neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement. All he said was “we do that all the time with foreign policy.” (A number of commentators, such as John and Andy McCarthy, have made this point. By doing so, they don’t concede that there was a quid pro quo in this case, and neither, necessarily, did Mulvaney.)

Mulvaney is saying we do quid pro quos — aid in exchange for policy adjustments — all the time. He’s not saying we demand investigations — of Democratic servers or anything else — all the time. Clearly, we do not.

Given Mulvaney’s previous statements, the demand here, to the extent there was one, is to satisfy the administration that we wouldn’t be aiding a hopelessly corrupt country. Mulvaney still hasn’t said or agreed that aid was conditioned on an investigation of Democrats.

Democrats and their media allies are also trying to make something of Mulvaney’s statement later on that “there’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Here, though, all Mulvaney was saying is that the substance of foreign policy changes as the result of elections.

This is clear from his statement, in the middle of this part of the discussion, that “elections have consequences.” In fact, Mulvaney said this twice. He added that “foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.” Obviously.

That’s the sense in which Mulvaney was saying that politics influences foreign policy. Mulvaney certainly wasn’t saying that foreign policy is or should be influenced by the desire to investigate political opponents.

It’s possible that Trump did withhold military aid for a time because he wanted to pressure Ukraine to investigate matters of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. If so, I see little, if anything, wrong with this. But Mulvaney didn’t really say that happened.

It’s possible that Trump withheld military aid for a time because he wanted to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. If so, I think this would be a serious wrong. But Mulvaney certainly didn’t say this happened.

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