Pence's Role in Trump's Abuse of Power

Vice President Pence has consistently attempted to keep President Trump’s scandals at arm’s length, but Trump’s betrayal is catching up to Pence.

Pence’s ignorance defense is crumbling as he is implicated in key testimonies and moments of the scandal. His continuous denials and inability to answer even simple questions about his knowledge and role only adds to the probability that Trump enlisted him as a key operative in his scheme to place his narrow political interests over the national interest. 

Ambassador Sondland’s testimony directly implicated Pence in the scheme to extort Ukraine for Trump’s political benefit. In his opening statement to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Ambassador Sondland explained his conversation with Vice President Mike Pence before the September 1st meeting in Warsaw with President Zelensky. 

  • Sondland told Congressional investigators: “I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations. I recall mentioning that before the Zelensky meeting.”
  • While Sondland later added that Pence nodded in response, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, Marc Short, claimed Pence “never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigation,” arguing that the “alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.”

Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony further incriminated the Vice President and his team. Hill testified she had warned General Kellogg, Pence’s National Security Advisor, of concerns pertaining to Ukraine. 

  • Hill said:” I flagged to his staff, to General Kellogg that there were some issues, you know, kind of noise going on around Ukraine that was worrisome and that we’d need to get to the bottom of.” 
  • Later in her testimony, Hill described her concerns with General Kellogg on the firing of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, stating: “I wanted to make sure that they knew that there were issues and they should be very careful.” She told the Committee Kellogg would talk to his team about her concerns, but did not say if he would tell Pence.
  • Finally, Hill described Pence’s active role in foreign policy, especially his eagerness to be involved with Ukraine. She testified: “The Vice President played actually a very important foreign policy and diplomatic role in terms of his outreach…. Vice President Pence has been extremely good about stepping up when asked to go and give speeches for Munich Security Council and other settings, for example.”

The House report on the impeachment inquiry concluded that Pence and other senior officials were aware of or participated in the scheme. The report faults Pence for his unwillingness to produce any documents requested by the panels and for blocking the release of part of a transcript of his conversation with President Zelensky on September 18th. 

  • It states: “Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Acting Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Energy, and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President.” 

Pence is named in the whistleblower complaint for his role pressuring Ukraine’s leadership to heed Trump’s wishes. Specifically, the Vice President was the most senior American official to see Ukranian President Zelensky in the immediate aftermath of the July 25 call, and he pressed forward with the pressure campaign against Ukraine. 

  • Asked if he could assure Ukraine that the delayed humanitarian aid had “nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family,” Pence spurned a direct answer. Instead, Pence said he and Zelensky discussed America’s strong support for Ukraine and the progress Zelensky is making on “a broad range of areas.” 

Since then, Pence’s answers to basic questions have ranged from complete dodges to rationalizations of Trump’s betrayal. 

  • Asked if he could provide assurances that the delay in the aid had “nothing to do with efforts […] to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family,” Pence declined to answer the question. He instead resorted to the administration’s talking points conflating anti-corruption with Trump’s quest to dig up dirt on his opponents.
  • Asked directly if he was aware that Ukraine aid was tied to the Bidens, Pence hesitated and did not answer the question, stating: “I never discussed the issue of the Bidens with President Zelensky.”
  • At the same time, Pence has explicitly endorsed efforts to investigate Trump’s political opponents and debunked conspiracy theories about the 2016 election. He specifically defended Trump’s efforts to “get the truth” about “what happened in 2016.” 

Pence’s conduct in the context of Trump’s betrayal has distinct similarities with his defenses in the face of a previous administration scandal. Despite heading the Trump administration’s transition, Pence claimed to have been completely in the dark regarding then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s improper dealings with Russian officials, including Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington. 

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