As outrage mounts over Donald Trump’s latest attempt to solicit the interference of a foreign government into the U.S. political process, the involvement of Vice President Mike Pence in the president’s scheme to extort Ukraine by withholding military aid unless they help deliver damaging information on the activities of the son of Trump’s top Democratic rival Joe Biden is being investigated as well.
Josh Marshall, the editor of the political blog Talking Points Memo, penned an editorial today that examines the role that the vice president may have played in communicating the Trump administration’s arm-twisting of the new Ukrainian government into delivering the same type of “opposition research” that they were so eager to receive from Russia in the 2016 election.
Marshall points to Pence’s trip to Poland in Trump’s stead to meet with European leaders on the 80th anniversary of World War II. While the vice president was there, he held a meeting with the recently elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and was specifically asked afterward whether he had discussed his predecessor in the vice-presidency with the Ukranian leader and whether there was any quid pro quo between the release of millions of dollars worth of American military aid to the country and a commitment to deliver what would essentially be weapons of political warfare for the U.S. president’s re-election campaign.
Quoting from the official White House transcript of a press conference that Pence held with his host President Duda of Poland, Marshall suggests that the vice president’s denial of any such discussion is belied by the other details of the conversation that Pence relates — particularly in light of this week’s revelations stemming from the still unverified whistleblower accusations against Trump that the president essentially confessed to while declaring that nothing he did was wrong.
(Note: all bolded text in the transcript is Marshall’s own emphasis.)
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to ask you about your meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President and for an update on Ukrainian security aid money.
Specifically, number one, did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President? And number two, can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, on the first question, the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.
The President asked me to meet with President Zelensky and to talk about the progress that he’s making on a broad range of areas. And we did that.
We, as I said yesterday, especially since Russian aggression — the illegal occupation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine — the United States has stood strong with Ukraine and we will continue to stand strong with Ukraine for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. And, fortunately, President Zelensky was elected decisively on an anti-corruption message. And he and I discussed yesterday that as he’s assembled his cabinet, and as his parliament has convened, that even in the early days, he informed me that there have been more than 250 bills filed for — that address the issue of public corruption and really restoring integrity to the public process.
I mean, to invest additional taxpayer in Ukraine, the President wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine. And that’s an expectation the American people have and the President has expressed very clearly.
We also talked in some detail about what other European nations are doing for Ukraine. The simple fact is that the United States has carried the load on most of the security investments in Ukraine. And we have been proud to do that, but we believe it’s time for our European partners to step forward and make additional investments to stand with the people of Ukraine as they assert their territorial integrity and sovereignty.
President Zelensky and I talked in great detail about ongoing discussions about resolving the ongoing violence and occupation of Ukraine. And those were the issues that we covered.
But I assured him that the people of the United States stand with Ukraine for their sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I called on him to work with us to engage our European partners to participate at a greater level in Ukraine, and also told him that I would carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.
Marshall is just the latest political commentator to call attention to Vice President Pence’s potential role in the scandal.
Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance discussed the issue of Pence’s role in the matter when she appeared on MSNBC‘s AM Joy this weekend. Host Joy Reid asked Vance about Pence’s transition from isolation from the majority of the administration’s worst excesses to his seemingly integral involvement in the pressure put on the Ukraine government.
“Let me go to you on this very quickly, Joyce, because here’s the question for Mike Pence,” Reid said to the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. “Mike Pence has been sort of severed from all of the other questions that are relating to potential impeachment for Donald Trump, that the House is wrestling with right now, but if Pence … went in knowing why the aid was being held up, went in and spoke to the leader of Ukraine knowing what stick the administration had over them, and in that way was drawn in to this idea of using that stick to try to get what they wanted from Ukraine, does he then face the jeopardy of perhaps also being drawn into the questions of impeachment?”
Vance’s reply included a warning that there were still many open questions about the extent of the vice president’s involvement in the impeachable actions.
“You know, Joy, I think the short answer … is there’s not any reporting on this yet and that should be really troubling to all of us,” Vance answered. “Because Pence shows up on your timeline at a key point, and we need to know the answer to that question because if the answer is yes, that Pence was explicitly part of some sort of a scheme to either bribe or extort the Ukranians, then the American people need to know that and Congress needs to take appropriate action.”
Marshall goes further towards implicating the vice president by reading between the lines of Pence’s interview response. While it is far from proof of Pence’s wrongdoing, it does strongly suggest that further inquiry is warranted. If Pence is as deeply involved in the extortion of Ukraine for political purposes as Trump and his maniacal attorney Rudy Giuliani, then, for the first time, this vice president may be as subject to impeachment as his boss.
President Pelosi, anyone?
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Original reporting by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.