Rand Paul Insists Trump 'Had Every Right to Withhold Aid' to Ukraine, Argues 'Quid Pro Quo' Doesn't Matter

Republican Senator Rand Paul insisted on Sunday that there was not a "quid pro quo" involved with Donald Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, but argued that the president "had every right to withhold aid."

"If you're not allowed to give aid to people who are corrupt, there's always contingencies on aid," Paul, who represents Kentucky, said during an interview with NBC's Meet the Press. He argued that former President Barack Obama had also withheld aid to Ukraine.

"But also presidents have withheld aid before for corruption," the GOP lawmaker said. "I think it's a mistake to say, 'Oh, he withheld aid until he got what he wanted.' Well, if it's corrupt and he believes there to be corruption, he has every right to withhold aid."

"I think it's a big mistake for anyone to argue 'quid pro quo,' [or] 'he didn't have quid pro quo.' I know that's what the administration's arguing. I wouldn't make that argument. I would make the argument that every politician in Washington, other than me virtually, is trying to manipulate Ukraine to their purposes," Paul said.

"They're all doing it. They're all trying to manipulate Ukraine to get some kind of investigation, either end an investigation or start an investigation," he argued.

Paul's assertion that Obama had withheld aid to Ukraine inaccurately represented what happened back in 2014. At the time, Russian-backed separatist rebels had just taken control of parts of the Eastern European nation, launching a civil war that continues to the present day. Obama's administration did approve $53 million in military aid to the country, but decided against offering lethal assistance, in an attempt to balance tense relations with Russia while also supporting Ukraine.

Instead of weapons, the White House offered Ukraine vehicles, patrol boats, body armor, night-vision goggles and humanitarian aid. After Trump took office, he did provide Ukraine with javelin missiles; however, these were given with the caveat that they could not be used in the ongoing civil war.

Rand Paul and Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) during a "Make America Great Again" rally at the Eastern Kentucky University, in Richmond, Kentucky on October 13, 2018 NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty

Another big difference between Obama's decision to withhold lethal aid to Ukraine and Trump's decision to temporarily withhold nearly $400 million in military assistance, was that Obama's decision was not based on wanting investigations against his domestic political rivals. Numerous credible witnesses from within Trump's administration have now testified that the president held back aid to Ukraine this past summer as a "quid pro quo," to get the country to launch investigations into debunked claims that Democrats conspired with Ukrainians during the 2016 presidential election, and that leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had acted corruptly toward the country to protect his son Hunter's business dealings there.

Democratic Representative Jim Himes, who also appeared for an interview on Meet the Press, took aim at Paul's claims as he came on the show following the GOP senator.

"Let's be very clear, the president of the United States demanding, extorting a vulnerable country to do his political bidding, to go after his political opponent has nothing to do with Joe Biden executing the policy or Hillary Clinton doing opposition research on her presidential opponent those are radically different things and what the president did is wrong and impeachable," the congressman from Connecticut said.

Rand Paul Insists Trump 'Had Every Right to Withhold Aid' to Ukraine, Argues 'Quid Pro Quo' Doesn't Matter | U.S.