We’re seeing multiple stories this morning, building on hints and suggestions over the course of the week, that Vice President Mike Pence was kept “out of the loop” on seemingly all the problems with Mike Flynn. I see no reason to believe this.
Pence wouldn’t be the first Vice President to go this route. Some of the modern ubiquity of this phrase stems from then Vice President Bush claiming he’d been “out of the loop” on key decisions and knowledge about the Iran-Contra Scandal. There’s even less reason to believe this with Pence.
If we were still in the late summer of 2016, I’d say ‘maybe’. Pence comes from a different world. Whatever Pence’s own issues, Trump’s world of predation and appetites and grift isn’t Pence’s. Or at least it wasn’t. But Pence has now been up close, right there, with everything that’s happened over the last 8 or 9 months, with Flynn and all his emerging secrets and bad acts. Pence was the head of the presidential transition when Flynn informed the transition’s top lawyer Donald McGahn (now White House Counsel) that he was being investigated by the FBI. More than two months later Pence claimed it was the first he’d heard about it.
It is fair to say that Pence probably wasn’t the active manager of the Transition process. But it’s probably fair to say that nothing would be more important to the transition process than learning that the President’s top foreign policy advisor was being investigated for being in the pay of a foreign power. Like, almost literally nothing. If he never learned about something that serious, he either made sure not to hear or had information kept from him by others. A similar pattern emerges with Flynn’s assurances about his calls with Russian Ambassador Kislyak: Pence’s public statements turn out to be false and it’s excused with the claim that he was left in the dark. There are many other examples.
The only way this seems plausible to me is if Pence were somehow so clean, so far from the center of the action, that the Trump crew knew not to tell Pence these things. That clearly seems to be the story Pence’s aides are trying to tell – possibly to insulate him from Trump’s ubiquitous corruption and lying and allow a smooth transition to a Pence presidency.
But again, it doesn’t add up.
Pence was reportedly one of the few advisors fully involved in the decision to fire James Comey. Even if you buy the argument, which you shouldn’t, that the Trump Team didn’t understand that firing Comey would be a problem, Pence certainly did. He is a DC veteran. He’s been the Chief Executive of a mid-sized state. He’d know exactly what a high stakes gambit this was – both the wrongness on the merits and the severe political risks. But he was fully in on and the decision and as explicitly as anyone went on camera to make the always implausible and quickly discredited claim that Trump somehow fired Comey on the say-so of the Deputy Attorney General. He was in on the decision, he vouched for the cover store. The cover story was quickly discredited.
All of this tells me that Trump and his top people trust Pence to be in on the bad acts and the cover ups. We’ve seen him participate in them, again and again, with eyes wide open. Whether his knowledge of specific decisions can be proved is something we’ll only learn over time. But the ‘Pence was out of the loop’ line just doesn’t add up. It’s not credible.