MSNBC Analyst Slams Mulvaney's Reported Efforts to Justify Trump Holding Ukraine Aid After the Fact: 'Cover Their Asses'

An MSNBC panel this weekend discussed the Trump administration and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's recently reported efforts to generate an explanation for President Donald Trump's decision to withhold Ukrainian military aid after the fact.

A confidential White House probe has produced an array of documents that show officials had tried to reverse-engineer a viable and legal justification for the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, three people familiar with the review told The Washington Post in a report released on Sunday. The documents reportedly include emails sent by Mulvaney to White House budget officials, in which he sought to find a reasonable justification months after Trump's decision to hold nearly $400 million in July.

The report suggested "a cover up," NBC News political reporter Josh Lederman told MSNBC host Richard Liu on Sunday. "Not only were there problematic interactions regarding why this aid was held up to Ukraine, but also the fact that in the immediate aftermath, as that aid was being withheld, that lawyers and others in the White House were basically trying to backfill legal explanations for why that happened."

Niall Stanage, a White House columnist for The Hill, commended the Post's report for being "well sourced."

"It goes to a phrase we've all become familiar with in recent months, the idea of consciousness of guilt," the analyst said. "Is there some sense that this is a cover up? Is there a sense that people are trying to, frankly, cover their asses in all of this."

"Once it's gone wrong, once a whistleblower has come forward, that to me seems the central issue here," Stanage added, "and the issue that has the potential to cause real problems, not just for President Trump but for people like Mick Mulvaney and others in or around the administration who tried to really minimize their own involvement in this story."

After Liu noted that the justification allegedly "happened after the [whistleblower's] complaint," former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance said the "only thing that we can be almost certain about is that they were unable to come up with one."

"If they had been successful, then we would be hearing that defense on Capitol Hill and likely documents to substantiate it would have been turned over," she said. "This reporting and the timeline it lays out seems to be very important."

According to the report, Mulvaney asked acting Office of Management and Budget director Russell Vought in August by email for a legal rationale for withholding the aid, as well as information on how much longer the administration could hold the funds. It is unclear whether their conversation breached legality.

"There was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld to conduct the policy review," OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told the Post. "OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed, not scrambling."

Trump's decision to withhold Ukrainian aid and whether there was a quid pro quo are at the heart of the ongoing Democrat-led impeachment inquiry into the president. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced the probe in late September after the emergence of a whistleblower complaint, which accused Trump of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter during phone a call in July.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney answers questions during a briefing at the White House October 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty