For weeks, Donald Trump's White House and its allies have downplayed the Ukraine scandal by insisting there was no quid pro quo. Yes, the Trump administration held up military aid for a vulnerable ally, and yes, the Republican president pressed Ukraine to pursue partisan conspiracy theories, but Trump didn't necessarily draw a connection between the two.
That argument has always been ridiculous. As of this afternoon, it's also been rejected -- by the Trump White House.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has a message for those concerned that President Donald Trump held up military aid to Ukraine until they moved to investigate a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S. election -- "Get over it."In speaking with reporters Thursday at the White House, Mulvaney acknowledged Trump held up Ukraine aid partly for political reasons. "Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy," he added.
By Mulvaney's telling, Trump specifically wanted Ukraine to explore questions "related to the DNC server" -- a line of inquiry most fair-minded observers recognize as a crackpot conspiracy theory -- as part of a White House quid pro quo. That, of course, is a quid pro quo that Republicans just spent weeks denying the existence of.
When a reporter explained to the acting White House chief of staff that he'd "just described a quid pro quo," Mulvaney replied, "We do that all the time with foreign policy."
It was moments later when the South Carolina Republican added, "I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), "Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse."
By way of a defense, the acting White House chief of staff tried to explain why everyone should see what Trump did as routine. Pointing to aid for Central American countries as an example, Mulvaney said, "We were holding up money at the same time for, what was it, the Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration."
Whether Mulvaney recognizes these details or not, it's important to understand the qualitative differences. When the United States tells a foreign country that its aid is dependent on a specific policy outcome, it's easy to make the case that an administration is using its leverage trying to advance our national interests.
The difference in the case of Trump and Ukraine is that the American president tried to use his leverage to advance his own interests.
For Team Trump to engage in such corruption is extraordinary. For Team Trump to confess to such corruption is breathtaking.
Looking ahead, Mulvaney put at the core of his argument that the quid pro quo was retrospective, not prospective: Trump used his leverage to focus on 2016, the argument goes, not 2020. By this reasoning, Mulvaney's confession, for lack of a better word, doesn't include an acknowledgement that the president is seeking foreign assistance in next year's U.S. election.
The trouble with this tack, of course, is that Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House and called for foreign governments to go after Joe Biden. For that matter, it's likely that the House's impeachment inquiry is hearing from a whole bunch of witnesses who are likely to provide evidence that shows Trump's scheme was obviously about Biden.