Murkowski, true to form, breaks with GOP colleagues on ethical questions about Trump

Sen. Lisa Murkowski at a press conference in July. Photo by Liz Ruskin.

Lisa Murkowski is living up to her reputation as one of the few Republican senators likely to break party ranks to criticize President Trump on ethical grounds. Thursday, she weighed in against the president in two cases that raise questions about whether the president is using his office for personal gain.  

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had just dropped a bombshell. He said the White House did hold up aid to Ukraine as a quid pro quo, even though the president has repeatedly insisted there’s been no such deal. Mulvaney says President Trump did it to pressure Ukraine to investigate a theory involving a Democratic Party server and the 2016 election. (A few hours later, Mulvaney reversed course and insisted there was no quid pro quo.)

At the Capitol, a reporter asked Murkowski if it concerned her.

“Well, that’s news to me. I had not heard that,” she said. “Yes, absolutely it’s a concern.”

Then she defined exactly what her concern is:

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

She said she still needed to study exactly what Mulvaney said.

Of course, the word “political” has several meanings. Mulvaney told reporters the deal was aid in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation into the last presidential election, not to benefit the president’s re-election campaign, and he said the deal was separate from Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mulvaney told reporters at the White House. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton, help Trump and undermine trust in American democracy. None of the agencies have supplied evidence of any Ukrainian election plot. The president’s critics, including former national security officials, say the Ukrainian angle is a conspiracy theory Trump can’t let go of.

Reporters also asked Murkowski about a second bombshell Mulvaney dropped: He announced President Trump plans to hold an international conference, the G-7, at a Trump golf club in Florida. Asked if she thought that was appropriate, Murkowski answered before the reporter could completely finish the question: No. 

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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