This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Place your bets: Vice President Mike Pence is either the world’s most clueless politician or a co-conspirator in President Donald Trump’s misdeeds in Ukraine. Your money should be on the second choice.
As a seasoned politician who served for 12 years in Congress and three years as governor of Indiana, Pence is more ambitious than naïve. And the head-bobber-in-chief knows that his political future is tied umbilically to President Trump, so he must go along with the President’s offenses, mimicking the “What, me worry?” motto of Mad Magazine’s cover boy Alfred E. Neuman.
Although commentators have voiced their suspicion of Pence, they have missed his record as a practiced liar. He deceives with mock sincerity, as opposed to Trump’s bluster, which makes Pence adept at posing as innocent and disengaged. A PolitiFact comparison of vice presidential candidates during the 2016 campaign rated 42 percent of Pence’s statements as mostly false or false, nearly double the 23 percent for Democratic candidate Tim Kaine.
As the head of Trump’s transition team, Pence recommended Michael Flynn for national security adviser, even though Flynn was lobbying for Turkey at the time. When Flynn’s lobbying burst into a public controversy, Pence said on March 9, 2017, “Hearing that story today was the first I’d heard of it.”
However, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), then the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, had sent a letter to Pence on November 18, 2016, warning: “Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government’s interests. … Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests.”
After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, Pence said, “let me be very clear” that Trump fired Comey because he accepted “the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general.” Yet, reporting has indicated that the vice president knew that Trump wanted to sack Comey regardless of Justice Department recommendations.
Now, Pence is likely deceiving the American people again about the Ukraine scandal and his involvement in it. Although his staffer was listening to the conversation in which Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden, Pence’s aides claimed he was unaware of any such effort.
Pence said that the administration, which has shown no interest in combatting corruption at home or abroad, was somehow concerned only with stemming corruption in Ukraine. “As President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption,” Pence said last week. Yet Trump did not not utter one word about current Ukrainian corruption in his conversation with Zelensky. He asked the Ukrainian president only to dial back the clock several years to investigate both the crackpot notion that the Democrats and the Ukrainians had fabricated Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and debunked allegations about wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian company when his father was vice president.
Pence insisted that he did not mention Biden in his meeting with Zelensky but that “we focused entirely … on the issues that President Trump has raised as a concern, namely the lack of support from European partners for Ukraine and real issues of corruption in Ukraine.”
Yet, Pence was caught in his own web of deceit when he also said that allegations about Biden were, in fact, worth looking into and “other nations around the world should look into it as well.”
And it would seem that Pence knows better than to endorse any push for a foreign government to investigate one of Trump’s political rivals. Just three years ago, on the campaign trail in 2016, Pence proclaimed: “This is basic stuff. Foreign donors — and certainly foreign governments — cannot participate in the American political process.”
The impeachment investigation has now turned to Pence, who is predictably is resisting congressional demands for documents. House committees are focusing on whether he had in fact discussed an investigation of Biden with Zelensky and whether the cancellation of his trip to Zelensky’s inauguration was intended to signal to the Ukrainian president that he should help Trump politically to secure backing from the U.S.
Pence, like Trump, may be guilty of abuse of power and criminal violation of the campaign finance law that prohibits a candidate from soliciting anything of value from a foreign national. Campaigns spend large sums on opposition research to uncover incriminating information about political rivals. According to a CBS News report, “Ahead of the 2016 presidential race,” opposition research “blossomed into a multimillion-dollar industry.”
Pence, Trump, Rudy Giuliani, other private lawyers, and State Department officials may also be guilty of conspiracy against the United States, for their involvement in the Ukrainian shakedown. Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chair, pled guilty to this crime — a broad charge used when “two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States.”
The ultimately irony of their self-inflicted scandal is that if both Trump and Pence are impeached by the House and removed by the Senate, the new president would be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is next in line for presidential succession.
Allan J. Lichtman is a distinguished professor of history at American University. He has written 12 books, including The Case for Impeachment. His latest book, Repeal the Second Amendment; The Case for a Safer America, will e published in January by St. Martin’s Press. He has been an expert witness in more than 90 voting rights cases, has provided commentary to major media outlets, and has lectured on American history and politics across the world. His “Keys to the White House” system has successfully forecast the outcomes of all American presidential elections since 1984, including 2016.