Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is not good at this whole pretending-Donald-Trump-didn’t-crime thing. Mulvaney went to the friendliest Sunday talk show he could find, Fox News Sunday, to continue walking back the disastrous Thursday press conference in which he outright admitted that Trump had held up aid to Ukraine to pressure the country’s government to look for support for a conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee server is in Ukraine. It didn’t go well. Mulvaney inspired anchor Chris Wallace to make one of his periodic efforts to prove that he is a Serious Journalist who is not just some partisan hack, and Mulvaney, whose job is reportedly on thin ice, not only didn’t convince anyone on the quid pro quo front, but he also made the G-7 Doral debacle just a little worse.
Wallace pressed Mulvaney on the fact that he had described a quid pro quo in Thursday’s press conference, and Mulvaney flailed, first claiming that he had given two reasons for Trump holding up aid to Ukraine. The problem is, he had given three, and the third was, “Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.” And “we do that all the time with foreign policy,” and also, “Get over it.”
Wallace was not letting Mulvaney off the hook by giving him a pass on that third reason. “I recognize that I didn’t speak clearly, maybe, on Thursday,” he said. “Folks misinterpreted what I said. But the facts are absolutely clear and they are there for everyone to see.” (Psst, dude: That’s the problem.) To him, though, the relevant fact is that eventually the money did go to Ukraine. To everyone who’s not flacking for Trump, the relevant fact is that the money was held up by Trump after being passed by Congress. And Mulvaney continued to insist that the DNC server conspiracy theory is a legitimate thing for Trump to embrace: “It is legitimate for the president to want to know what’s going on with the ongoing investigation into the server,” he said. “Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely.” In other words, he’s got nothing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo essentially confirmed as much when he refused to defend Mulvaney on ABC’s This Week, saying, “I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended.”
But Mulvaney’s “the quid pro quo wasn’t reeeally a quid pro quo” efforts weren’t his only screw-up. He also addressed Saturday night’s decision to back away from Trump’s Doral resort as the location for the 2020 G-7 with this: “At the end of the day, [Trump] still considers himself to be in the hospitality business. He saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders around the world and wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit, that he possibly could, and he was very comfortable doing it at Doral.” Trump is facing multiple lawsuits over his hotels and the emoluments clause, and his chief of staff is out there saying, “At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.” File that under Not Helpful. Also Not Helpful were the Trump allies who anonymously told reporters that Mulvaney was right—he just shouldn’t have said that on TV. Much better to do it anonymously in the newspaper, I guess.
These guys are like villains in a melodrama. They do the most outlandishly bad things, and then they can’t wait to tell you all about it.