WASHINGTON (AFP) - Top White House aide Mick Mulvaney said Sunday (Oct 20) he has "absolutely not" been asked to resign over his public admission that Donald Trump had tied military aid for Ukraine to Kiev's opening a probe into the Democrats.
Mulvaney, Trump's acting chief of staff, walked back that admission only hours after making it Thursday, and on Sunday he again revised his explanation of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, playing down any linkage to a political investigation.
But Mulvaney's original admission - that "we held up the money" partly to secure Ukraine's promise to investigate a conspiracy theory that the US Democratic National Committee's hacked computer server was now in Ukraine - proved explosive, and on Fox News Sunday he was asked whether he had offered to resign.
"Absolutely not," Mulvaney said.
Asked whether he even discussed the matter with Trump, he repeated, "Absolutely not." Mulvaney's original admission had provoked a storm of criticism from Democrats and caused consternation and head-shaking among Republicans as well.
After saying Thursday that "we held up the money" for three reasons including the DNC matter, on Sunday he listed only two: concern over corruption in Ukraine and questions about European aid to that country.
Mulvaney said once the US satisfied itself about Kiev's cracking down on internal corruption and the Europeans' providing adequate aid proved that those were the only relevant demands and were "legitimate for the president to do." The aid to Ukraine was in fact released only after members of Congress from both parties raised concern about it being mysteriously held up.
At around the same time, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff was beginning to ask questions about a whistleblower report that the administration was refusing to turn over to Congress.
The whistleblower report, which was eventually made public, detailed for the first time an alleged quid pro quo in Trump's July 23 conversation with Zelensky.
Mulvaney has repeatedly played down Trump's requests to Zelensky to investigate former US Vice-President Joe Biden, a possible Democratic rival in 2020, and his son Hunter.
A former conservative congressman, Mulvaney has served as acting chief of staff since January. He also serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget.