Already in a ditch, Mick Mulvaney finds a shovel, digs deeper

Updated

On Thursday afternoon, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared before reporters and acknowledged, among other things, the existence of a quid pro quo with Ukraine. The man in charge of running Donald Trump’s West Wing offered what was effectively a very public confession: the U.S. administration withheld vital military aid to a vulnerable ally, he explained, using it as leverage to convince a foreign country to participate in a political scheme for Donald Trump.

“Get over it,” the South Carolina Republican declared after acknowledging White House wrongdoing.

A day later, a GOP congressional leadership aide told Politico, “Mulvaney needs to learn when to stop talking.” That was a sensible observation, which the acting chief of staff ignored.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted Sunday that he did not say that President Donald Trump held up military aid for Ukraine for political purposes — despite acknowledging the issue at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry during a televised press conference.

“I’m flinching because that’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace of the comments he made – and then walked back in a contradictory statement – Thursday.

I’m not sure why Mulvaney thought it’d be a good idea to sit down with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, but whatever his reasoning, the president’s chief of staff was mistaken. Mulvaney was reduced to repeatedly complaining about being quoted accurately.

On Thursday, for example, the Republican told reporters there were “three factors” in the administration’s decision to withhold military 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. That’s completely legitimate.”

Putting aside how dubious the “corruption” claim is, Mulvaney insisted on Fox News that the third reason didn’t actually exist. Pressed to explain the dramatic shift, he couldn’t.

In the same interview, Mulvaney emphasized the fact that he never literally used the phrase “quid pro quo.” That’s true. But during the briefing, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl told the chief of staff, “But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo.” Instead of pushing back or contesting the characterization, Mulvaney replied, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”

Asked to explain why he accepted the “quid pro quo” description of the White House’s policy, Mulvaney nonsensically tried to blame reporters.

The result is a dynamic in which the acting White House chief of staff, caught up in a scandal that’s likely to lead to his boss’ impeachment, is receiving a fair amount of blame for the entire fiasco. Stuck in a ditch, Mulvaney thought it’d be a good idea to grab a shovel, head to Fox News, and dig deeper.

On Thursday, Mulvaney said the G7 summit would be held at one of Donald Trump’s struggling businesses; Camp David would be a poor choice; and the White House held up Ukraine aid for political reasons. Three days later, Team Trump isn’t standing by any of these assertions.

Indeed, asked about the G7 scheme, Mulvaney added yesterday, “At the end of the day, you know, [Trump] still considers himself to be in the hospitality business and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world, and he wanted to put the absolute best show.”

Of course, the sitting American president is supposed to be in the governing business, not the hospitality business.

Under the circumstances, it’s hard not to wonder how much longer Mulvaney will remain in Trump’s West Wing. That said, The Atlantic reported on Friday that the chief of staff “may be untouchable: Should Trump fire him and leave him aggrieved, Mulvaney could prove a damaging witness in Congress’s impeachment investigation.”