“There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server,” Mulvaney said later Thursday, referring to a Democratic National Committee server that was hacked in 2016.
But one thing some may not have realized about all this: Mulvaney is not even the first to appear to confirm a quid pro quo.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), in little-trafficked comments to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel earlier this month, also tied Trump’s withholding of the military aid to Ukraine not investigating the DNC server, about which Trump apparently harbors conspiracy theories.
In a recording of his interview, Johnson says much the same thing Mulvaney did Thursday. He described an Aug. 31 phone call in which he tried to get Trump to release the Ukraine aid and says Trump linked the aid to the 2016 investigation into Russian interference.
“I didn’t succeed,” Johnson said. “But the president was very consistent on why he was considering it. Again, it was corruption, overall, generalized — but yeah, no doubt about it, what happened in 2016 — what happened in 2016, as relates? What was the truth about that? And then the fact that our NATO partners don’t step up to the plate.”
The audio is at about the 4:45 mark below:
Johnson’s comments are a little herky-jerky and jumbled, but he makes clear Trump’s interest in the origins of the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference was an express part of his concern about Ukrainian “corruption” — and was a factor in withholding aid.
Which is pretty much exactly what Mulvaney said Thursday.
“[Did] he also mentioned to me, in the past, that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that,” Mulvaney said. “But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money.”
Mulvaney added later: “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.”
When it was pointed out that this sounded like a quid pro quo — “Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the, into the Democrats’ server happens as well” is how ABC’s Jonathan Karl summarized it — Mulvaney did not disagree with the premise.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “We were holding up money at the same time for … the Northern Triangle countries [in Central America] so that they would change their policies on immigration.”
Nor does Johnson seem to necessarily disagree with the premise that there was a quid pro quo. The same day he spoke with the Journal-Sentinel, he told the Wall Street Journal European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland had told him at the time that was exactly what it was:
Mr. Johnson said he learned of the potential arrangement involving military aid through a phone call with Mr. [Gordon] Sondland that occurred the day before Mr. Johnson spoke to Mr. Trump. Under the arrangement, Mr. Johnson said Mr. Sondland told him, Ukraine would appoint a strong prosecutor general and move to “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016 — if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending,” recounted Mr. Johnson.“At that suggestion, I winced,” Mr. Johnson said. “My reaction was: Oh, God. I don’t want to see those two things combined.”
Mulvaney seems to be drawing a line between the money being withheld for that reason and there actually being an explicit request in which the money would be released in exchange for x.
But that first part, whether you define it as a quid pro quo or not, does not seem to be in doubt. Mulvaney admitted it, Johnson admitted it, and apparently Sondland has also confirmed it to Johnson.