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Mulvaney keeps talking
Trump asked the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Trump's domestic political rivals — Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. That fact is not in dispute; it's part of a call summary released by the White House. This is a self-evident abuse of presidential power for personal political benefit and more than sufficient to justify impeachment.
Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry to construct the strongest possible case against Trump. Even after the release of the damning call summary, Republicans in Congress are still supporting Trump. Notably, Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL) suggested over the weekend that he might be willing to support the impeachment inquiry, and then quickly announced his retirement.
One of the key Republican talking points is that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, but there was no "quid pro quo" for military aid. At the time of Trump's request to Zelensky, the administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in support.
This argument is featured in the Republican's anti-impeachment website, Stop The Madness:
Then, during a Thursday press briefing, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted that Trump's request for an investigation into Democrats was a condition of releasing military aid.
Q. But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.
MR. MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy.
Yesterday, Mulvaney appeared on Fox News Sunday to try to clean up the mess. He made things worse.
A bad day on Fox News
Mulvaney's strategy during his Fox News Sunday interview was to simply deny what he said in front of dozens of cameras. The results were predictably disastrous.
WALLACE: Why did you say, in that briefing, that president Trump had ordered a quid pro quo investigating the Democrats — that aid to Ukraine depended on investigating the Democrats? Why did you say that?
MULVANEY: That's not what I said. That's what people said that I said.
"I believe that anyone listening to what you said in that briefing could only come to one conclusion," Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace replied. Wallace then played the tape of Mulvaney confirming the quid pro quo:
Things went downhill from there. In the interview, Mulvaney insisted that the aid was held up for two reasons: 1. As assessment of ongoing corruption in Ukraine, and 2. Concern that other countries were not providing aid to Ukraine.
But in the press briefing days earlier, Mulvaney said there were three reasons the aid was held up.
Three issues for that: the corruption of 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.
What was Mulvaney leaving off the list now? Trump's insistence that the Ukrainian government investigates Democrats.
The "ongoing investigation" with the Department of Justice refers to the inquiry ordered by Trump into the origins of the Russia investigation. Trump believes that the Ukranian government may be in possession of a DNC server, which contains the answers.
The conspiracy theory motivating the corruption
Trump's belief that Ukraine has the DNC server that would reveal the true origins of the Russia investigation is a completely illogical conspiracy theory.
The conspiracy theory, which has its origins in an anonymous post on 4chan, a site favored by internet trolls, posits that "CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that worked with the Democratic National Committee and had been contracted to investigate a hack of its servers, fabricated a forensics report to frame Russia for election interference."
Online, this claim was bolstered by fake documents produced by a British internet troll. The British man, Tim Leonard, "ran an international disinformation campaign that has provided US President Donald Trump with fake evidence and false arguments to deny that Russia interfered to help him win the election."
In the phone call with Zelensky, Trump suggests that CrowdStrike is owned by a wealthy Ukranian and that the DNC server is now located in Ukraine. Both of these claims are false. CrowdStrike is owned by U.S. citizens. The company explained that it has "never taken physical possession of any DNC servers." Rather, its investigation involved creating "an exact byte-for-byte copy of the hard drives."
The purpose of the conspiracy theory is to absolve Russia, which has been named as the responsible party by the entire U.S. intelligence community and the Mueller investigation. Mulvaney's contention is that conditioning hundreds of millions in military aid, which had already been approved by Congress, on a Ukrainian "investigation" of this conspiracy theory was "completely legitimate."
On ABC News, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fair much better. Pompeo was asked by George Stephanopoulos if it was appropriate for the administration to withhold aid from Ukraine unless the country pursued an investigation into Democrats.
Pompeo said he would not answer the question because it was a "hypothetical." When Stephanopoulos noted it wasn't hypothetical because Mulvaney admitted there was a quid pro quo, Pompeo sat silent for several seconds.
Stephanopoulos pressed further, showing Pompeo the video of Mulvaney's comments. "You saw Mr. Mulvaney right there say that one of the reasons was indeed this idea that Ukraine had to pursue these political investigations," Stephanopoulos said.
"I'll leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said," Pompeo replied.
"The hospitality business"
Another purpose of Mulvaney's Thursday press conference was to announce the administration's decision to hold a meeting of the G7 at one of Trump's resorts, Trump National Doral in Miami.
So we’re going to talk about the G7. We’re going to talk about where we’re going to do it. We’re going to announce today that we’re going to do the 46th G7 Summit on June 10th through June 12th at the Trump National Doral facility in Miami, Florida.
Mulvaney made it clear that holding the G7 at Doral was Trump's idea.
We sat around one night. We were back in the dining room and I was going over it with a couple of our advance team. We had the list, and he goes, “What about Doral?”
The decision was a clear violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments.
Trump violates the Emoluments Clause regularly at his DC hotel, but holding the G7 at Doral, which has been struggling financially, took the corruption to another level. Foreign governments at least have a choice of whether or not to patronize the Trump's DC hotel. By holding the G7 at Doral, Trump would be forcing foreign governments to line his pockets.
But Trump could not reverse the clear impression that he still views himself as the CEO of the Trump Organization and is looking for ways to use the presidency to enhance his personal business interests.
On Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney dug the hole deeper. "He was honestly surprised at the level of pushback... At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business," Mulvaney said.
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