Like a child with a rag to mop up spilled juice, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney went on television Sunday morning to clean up the mess he’d made of the White House’s defense of President Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. But rather than rectify his mistake, Mulvaney only managed to make himself — and the White House — look even more foolish.

In a Thursday news conference, Mulvaney had said that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in part because the country refused to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. It was a clear admission of a quid pro quo after weeks of Republican denials that there was one. Since the news conference, Mulvaney had been furiously backpedaling. So naturally, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked him, “Why did you say that?” Mulvaney replied:

That’s not what I said. That’s what people said I said. ... There were two reasons that we held up the aid. We talked about this at some length. The first one was the rampant corruption in Ukraine. ... The president was also concerned about whether or not other nations, specifically European nations, were helping with foreign aid to the Ukraine as well. ...
I did then mention that in the past, the president had mentioned for me to time to time about the DNC server. He had mentioned the DNC server to other people publicly. He even mentioned it to [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky in the phone call, but it wasn’t connected to the aid. And that’s where I think people got sidetracked this weekend at that press conference.

Set aside for the moment that “corruption in Ukraine” is the flimsy excuse Trump and the GOP often use as a justification for the president’s suggestion that Ukraine look into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that Mulvaney can’t even keep something as simple as the number of reasons for withholding the aid straight. He told Wallace there were two reasons for withholding the aid, but as Wallace pointed out, on Thursday Mulvaney said there were “three issues for that. The corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in support of the Ukraine, and whether they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That’s completely legitimate.”

Confronted with this numerical discrepancy, Mulvaney immediately pivoted to contesting whether he’d said there was a quid pro quo. Unfortunately for the acting chief of staff, Wallace had the goods here, too:

MULVANEY: Well, and a couple different things. You again said just a few seconds ago that I said there was a quid pro quo. I never used that language, because there is not a quid pro quo, but —
(CROSSTALK)
WALLACE: You were asked by Jonathan Karl, is — you described a quid pro quo, and you said, that happens all the time.
MULVANEY: Well — and reporters will use their language all the time. So, my language never said quid pro quo.

So yes, Mulvaney’s “language” never said there was a “quid pro quo.” He just accepted its existence as a fact.

Remember that Mulvaney is the acting White House chief of staff. Everything and anything that matters goes through him at some point. While his predecessor John F. Kelly could impose some order, Mulvaney can’t even go on television without making things worse. The backstabbing of the Kurds, the Ukraine call and the attempted Doral Group of Seven summit — each normally an administration-defining scandal by itself — have all taken place in the past five months, and all on Mulvaney’s watch. It’s no coincidence that this administration has gone even further off the rails under someone so manifestly incompetent.

Toward the end of the interview, Wallace asked Mulvaney, “After the briefing and all the blowback and the criticism, did you ever offer or think to offer the president your resignation?”

“Absolutely not,” replied Mulvaney. In other words, this White House will stay as messy as ever.

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