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Some Republicans inch closer to Trump impeachment after Mulvaney comments

Possible support for the ongoing probe comes as 2016 presidential candidate Kasich supports impeachment outright

Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, who is weighing retiring from Congress, has broken with his Republican colleagues on impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, who is weighing retiring from Congress, has broken with his Republican colleagues on impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Several Republicans grew more receptive this week to the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday said in a televised briefing that seeking help to investigate Democrats was part of the reason military aid to Ukraine was temporarily withheld.

While Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have signaled they’re eager to learn more from the impeachment investigation led by House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, 2016 GOP presidential candidate and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Friday that he is “across the Rubicon” and Trump should be impeached.

“I say it with great sadness,” Kasich told CNN, adding that if he were in the House, he would vote to move forward with impeachment.

Florida Rep. Francis Rooney has broken with many of his GOP colleagues who have continued to back the president, telling CNN in an interview Friday that “whatever might have been gray and unclear before is certainly clear right now” with regard to a quid pro quo of military aid to Ukraine for an investigation into Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

The Florida Republican, who is considering retiring rather than seek reelection with Trump at the top of the ballot, acknowledged that his criticism of the president’s alleged demands could damage him politically.

“I’m definitely at variance with some of the people in the district who would probably follow Donald Trump off the Grand Canyon rim,” Rooney said.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who has been highly critical of the president’s recent withdrawal of troops in Syria, indicated this week that he supports the House impeachment investigation into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, though he does not support impeaching the president yet, and won’t make a decision without all the facts.

“It’s quite concerning, and I think we’re going to get more information as we’re seeing this happen rapidly,” Kinzinger said Friday on CNN.

“I have no idea why he said what he said,” Kinzinger said of Mulvaney’s comments, which the acting chief of staff later tried to walk back.

“Was he talking about just general corruption, or was he talking specifically about the Biden issue? … It depends what the purpose is,” Kinzinger said.

Multiple Republican senators have indicated that they are eager to see what House impeachment investigators uncover, though they are withholding judgment on the president’s guilt until then.

“I am waiting for the House to complete its analysis, to gather all the facts,” Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters Thursday. Senators serve as the jury on whether a president is guilty of any articles of impeachment approved by the House, and the Utah Republican said he will make his decision “when those facts are presented.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski condemned the administration’s alleged conversations with Ukraine after learning of Mulvaney’s comments.

“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period,” the Alaska Republican said Thursday.

Mulvaney acknowledged during a rare White House press briefing on Thursday that Trump held up a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine, in part, because of his concerns — rooted in conservative media — that Ukrainian officials worked to aid Clinton’s 2016 campaign and prevent him from winning the White House.

Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate whether a hacked Democratic National Committee server that was penetrated in 2016 resides in that country. The conservative conspiracy theory has been widely debunked.

“The look back at what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption of that nation,” Mulvaney said, the first time a senior White House official has acknowledged what Democrats have been alleging for weeks.

Mulvaney later tried to clarify his comments in a statement, blaming the media for distorting his words.

“The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption,” Mulvaney said in the statement.

While some Republicans signaled stronger support this week for the impeachment inquiry in the wake of Mulvaney’s comments, House GOP leaders rallied behind the president and his acting chief of staff.

“I take Mick Mulvaney at his word for clarification,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday.

“He said, ‘Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukraine military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election, [and] the president never told me to withhold any money until Ukraine’s done,’ anything related to that,” McCarthy said of Mulvaney’s clarification.

Simone Pathe, Katherine Tully-McManus and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.