Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday defended President Trump’s decision — reversed in a tweet late Saturday — to host next year’s G-7 summit at his resort hotel near Miami, saying the president “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.
Just days after Mulvaney during a Thursday press conference announced the venue for the annual meeting of world leaders, Trump changed his mind amid bipartisan rebukes and concerns that he was profiting from the presidency. But Trump blamed the about-face on Democrats and the media.
“I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders,” he tweeted Saturday. “But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!”
He added: “Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately.”
In a pointed interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney also defended his controversial remarks that on their face supported the case that Trump had offered to resume military aid to Ukraine in exchange for help from that country’s president in pursuing an investigation into the 2016 U.S. election. He said his words were taken out of context — he never uttered the damaging phrase “quid pro quo” — but Wallace didn’t seem convinced.
“You said what you said,” the Fox host retorted.
Mulvaney, who had previously dismissed Camp David as a G-7 meeting site, said that Trump was “honestly surprised at the level of pushback” over the plan to host next year’s gathering at Trump National Doral golf resort in Florida. The idea that the U.S. government and hundreds of foreign heads of state, diplomats and journalists would be paying the president of the United States to stay at his property had provoked outrage even among Republicans. Democrats had described it as blatantly corrupt, and there was talk of adding it to the impeachment inquiry underway in the House.
“At the end of the day he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business, and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world and he wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could, and he was very comfortable doing that at Doral,” Mulvaney said. “I think we were all surprised at the level of pushback. I think it’s the right decision to change and we’ll have to find someplace else, and my guess is we’ll find someplace else the media won’t like for another reason.”
Wallace pushed back on Mulvaney’s comment about Trump being in the “hospitality business,” pointing out that “he’s the president of the United States.”
“Yeah, but it’s his background,” Mulvaney said, defending Trump. “He’s in the hotel business, or at least he was before he was president.”
When asked if Trump understands hosting the summit at his Florida golf club “looked lousy,” Mulvaney said, “He thinks people think it looks lousy.”
Trump’s concession to criticism came at the end of the busiest week yet in the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempts to enlist the Ukrainian government to investigate political rivals.
Mulvaney set off a media storm when he told reporters on Thursday Trump had indeed ordered the freeze of $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which has been battling Russian-backed separatists for several years — until three conditions were met, including agreement by Kiev to investigate the whereabouts of the “DNC server” that was hacked during the 2016 campaign. U.S. intelligence, private investigators and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller all attribute the hacking to Russian agents. Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been promoting a conspiracy theory that suggests Ukraine was somehow involved in a false-flag operation staged by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Get over it,” Mulvaney told the press. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Mulvaney later walked back his comments, saying, “There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
Mulvaney on Sunday claimed his words were taken the wrong way. The phrase “quid pro quo” was part of a question by ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl, but Mulvaney did not dispute the usage.
“I’m flinching because that’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that,” he told Wallace, stating there were “two reasons” that the aid was held up: corruption in Ukraine and the president’s concern that other nations were help with foreign aid to Ukraine.
“I hate to go through this, but you said what you said,” Wallace stated. “And the fact is, after that exchange with Jonathan Karl, you were asked another time why the aid was held up.”
He added: “Not only did you say that investigating the Democrats was one of the three conditions, not two, that you had just said that you had talked about, investigating the Democrats was part of the quid pro quo, you also said, if I may, it was part of the Justice Department investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.”
Mulvaney told Wallace to “look to the facts on the ground,” that there are “legitimate” reasons for Trump to withhold aid.
“No. 1, it is legitimate for the president to want to know what’s going on with the ongoing investigation into the server,” he said. “It is completely legitimate to ask about that. No. 2, it’s legitimate to tie the aid to corruption, it’s legitimate to tie the aid to foreign aid from other countries. That’s what I was talking about with the three. Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo, because there isn’t.”
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