A senior White House official has admitted military aid to Ukraine was withheld partly to pressure Kyiv to investigate allegations on the Democrats and the 2016 election.
Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said President Donald Trump had mentioned Democratic “corruption”.
Briefing reporters on Thursday, Mr Mulvaney gave a lengthy answer to a question about Ukraine, saying the president had told him Ukraine was a “corrupt place” and that Mr Trump didn’t want to spend aid and “have them use it to line their own pockets”.
Mr Mulvaney also said that the president “did not like” the fact that European countries weren’t providing much military aid to Ukraine.
“Those were the driving factors,” he said. “Did he also mention to me in past the corruption related to the DNC [Democratic National Committee] server? Absolutely. No question about that.
But Mr Trump was also concerned about wider corruption in Ukraine, he added.
“But that’s it. That’s why we held up the money.”
The DNC server refers to unsubstantiated claims that Democrats have a computer server hidden somewhere in Ukraine, and that Ukraine – not Russia – hacked the server and helped President Trump in the 2016 election.
Mr Mulvaney later backtracked on his earlier remarks, saying the media had “decided to misconstrue my comments”.
Meanwhile, President Trump said he had “a lot of confidence” in Mr Mulvaney, describing him as “a good man”.
The question of whether military aid for Ukraine was withheld in exchange for a “quid pro quo” to investigate Donald Trump’s political rivals is central to an impeachment inquiry against the president.
The White House has denied any such conditions were imposed.