WASHINGTON (CN) – In a stunning pair of press conference reveals Thursday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that President Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to solicit an investigation and also said next year’s G-7 summit will be held at Trump’s golf resort in Miami.
Disputing that the investigation was meant to gather opposition research on Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden, however, Mulvaney said Trump merely wanted to explore potential corruption in Ukraine, in particular any elements there that may point to interference in 2016 to help Democrats.
“The look back into what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing he was worried about in corruption with that nation," Mulvaney said during a briefing with reporters. "And that is absolutely appropriate.”
Mulvaney insisted such negotiations are made “all the time with foreign policy,” before also noting the president’s discomfort with “sending money overseas.”
“He doesn’t like spending money overseas, especially when it’s poorly spent and that’s exactly what drove this decision,” Mulvaney said.
The admission that Trump sought an investigation into the 2016 election in exchange for the release of aid still does not qualify as a quid pro quo in Mulvaney’s eyes. Sometimes “money is going to be held up,” Mulvaney added as he went on to aggressively defend Trump.
“It’s part of politics," he said. "Get over it.”
A reporter told Mulvaney that arrangement is the definition of a quid pro quo but the acting chief of staff dismissed it.
“We do that all the time,” he said.
Trump has accused Biden’s family of profiting from his position as former vice president, focusing specifically on his son Hunter’s role as a board member of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.
Thursday’s announcement that the June 2020 G-7 summit will be held at the Trump National Doral resort near Miami will surely draw claims of violations of the emoluments clauses, but Mulvaney dismissed the concerns.
The event would be held “at cost” to attendees, he said, emphasizing that the president has no need to profit from the event.
"Whenever we go to [a Trump property] it's a huge branding opportunity... I ask you to consider that Donald Trump’s brand is strong enough as it is and he doesn't need any help on that. It's the most recognizable name in the English language and around the world right now,” he said.
At least a dozen sites were considered but it was the location and layout of Doral that appeared to seal the deal. The resort is just outside of Miami, making national security concerns less intense. Mulvaney also said the decision would save “millions” given that the resort can house guests from each country in their own respective areas.
"I was skeptical for doing it at Doral but the advance team called back and said it was the perfect physical location to do this. The president would be criticized regardless of what he chooses to do," Mulvaney said.
He denied that holding the summit at Doral is the same sort of self-dealing that Trump has accused Biden of.
“Every time he goes to Bedminster or Sterling or Mar-a-Lago, he gets these questions. We get that. We get that people don’t like it. But he got over that a long time ago,” he said.
Mulvaney hedged when asked directly if Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend the annual summit with world leaders from Canada, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.
Bringing Russia to the table would make the event run more smoothly, he explained, since questions tend to arise about Russia’s global leadership role and participants are often left scrambling to fill in the details.
During a visit to France in August, Trump said he would “certainly” invite Putin to the summit.
“Whether he could come or not, psychologically, I think that's a tough thing to do. He’s a proud person,” the president said.
Russia was ousted from the summit platform in 2014 after the country invaded and subsequently annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Though the summit of the world’s most powerful and influential leaders will be held near Miami – a city that continues to experience the effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, extended heat waves and coastal flooding – Mulvaney was unequivocal about what would not be discussed.
"Climate change will not be on the agenda" he said.
On Thursday evening, Mulvaney walked back his comments on Ukraine and sought to blame the media for "misconstruing" his comments.
"Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the [DNC] server," Mulvaney said. "The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption. Multiple times during the more than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to Trump's interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately."
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