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Trump's top aides clash over impeachment as House probe expands

Saleha Mohsin and Jordan Fabian, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Mulvaney damaged himself with an Oct. 17 news conference in which he said that aid to Ukraine was frozen to pressure the country to investigate the president's political rivals -- the question at the heart of the impeachment debate.

The news conference was to announce that Trump's Miami golf resort had been chosen to host the 2020 Group of Seven summit of world leaders -- a decision the president later reversed in a tweet following heavy criticism. Mulvaney's comments on Ukraine came in response to reporters' questions.

Cipollone was privately critical of Mulvaney's performance and was caught off guard by his comments about Ukraine, according to one person familiar with the situation. Officials from the White House counsel's office met with Mulvaney's staff to discuss the news conference before it took place, according to another person.

Even as Mulvaney and Cipollone vie for authority, the White House is taking steps to shore up its public relations strategy on impeachment. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh are expected to join the team working on impeachment, according to a senior administration official.

Mulvaney himself has been summoned to testify in the House inquiry on Friday, though a White House official said he won't appear.

For almost a year, Mulvaney has served as chief of staff in an acting capacity because Trump still hasn't given the permanent title to him. Mulvaney had been a conservative House member from South Carolina, picked by Trump to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The president then tapped him to replace John Kelly, who resigned in December, as chief of staff.

The president appointed Cipollone, a Washington attorney, in October 2018 -- before Mulvaney became chief of staff -- to replace departing White House counsel Don McGahn. At a White House event on Wednesday, the president described Cipollone as "the strong, silent type."

 

Mulvaney and Cipollone have clashed in the past over judicial appointments, one of the White House's top priorities and an issue important to Trump's conservative supporters.

Mulvaney pushed for the elevation of his close friend, U.S. District Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden, to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals over the objections of the White House counsel's office and conservative groups, according to one person. The move sparked resentment in the counsel's office, the person said.

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