Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has been in the news. Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has been in the news. So has Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Donald Trump Jr., and White House counsel Don McGahn. And of course, Donald Trump. But someone … someone is missing.
It is extraordinary, in retrospect, that Mike Pence wouldn’t have known about Michael Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak or his foreign lobbying ties. As we now know, multiple members of the Trump campaign were aware that the man who would become Donald Trump’s national security adviser was in communication with the Russian ambassador at a senior campaign official’s behest. Yet Pence, who was in charge of Trump’s White House transition team—directing staffing, organizing agency “landing teams,” and vetting administration candidates—was conveniently out of the loop.
Somehow, Flynn got orders from Kushner and reported back to … everyone. Everyone inside the Trump campaign, and the Trump transition team, seems to have been part of the chain of command for Flynn’s actions. Except Mike Pence. And after Flynn’s plea deal, everyone seems to have a comment about the investigation. Everyone seems to have a role in obstruction. Except Mike Pence.
Pence went radio silent again last week, when Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about those conversations. And he was nowhere to be found in the aftermath, as Trump’s legal team raced to contain the fallout after the president potentially implicated himself in obstruction of justice on Twitter.
Have no doubt: Republicans are trying to build a firewall around Pence. It wasn’t Pence who came forward to pretend he was tweeting in Trump’s place. Or Pence offering up theories on the omnipotence of the presidency. Pence isn’t just absent, he’s actively ignorant. In fact, the whole pretense for why Flynn was fired is not that the then-national security adviser lied to the FBI, but that he lied to Pence. Even after the events, McGahn seems to have filled in Trump on Flynn’s FBI fibs, but no one is indicating he gave Pence a clue.
But … why? Why would Flynn lie to the guy who was the head of the transition team, especially if—as everyone from Trump on down now maintains—everything that Flynn did was legal and acceptable? It’s not even a question of “why did he know” but “how did he manage to not know?”
How can everyone on a team know what’s going on except the team leader? The odds would seem very good that they can’t. But, as sources on Tuesday have indicated that Pence may soon be interviewed by the special counsel’s office, Politico indicates that he’s doing a very good imitation of ignorance.
As the White House contends with questions about who knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to the FBI, people close to Vice President Mike Pence are trying to make clear that President Donald Trump’s No. 2 knew nothing at all.
Pence was neatly back in Indiana for the few days that surrounded Flynn begging Kislyak over helping with the UN resolution. He was out of town again when Flynn was urging the Russian ambassador to soften any response to new sanctions.
Pence’s aides have maintained for months that their man was out of the loop, blissfully ignorant of contacts between the Trump campaign and various foreign actors, from the Russian ambassador to WikiLeaks.
Mike Pence is supposed to be the experienced guy. The man who, with experience in both Washington and the governor’s mansion, can inform Trump and his team on how all the pieces slot together. But instead, the story being pushed now is that Pence was the one guy who stood completely on the sidelines, never dirtying his sanitized hands.
Past vice presidents have often pushed back against the idea that the person a heartbeat away from the Oval Office doesn’t have much of a formal role in running the U.S. government. But for Pence, who has taken on a sprawling portfolio, being an occasional outsider in Trump’s White House helps him maintain distance from the growing Russia probe.
And Pence has to keep his robe spotless. Because he’s on a mission from God.
In his folksy Midwestern drawl, he recites Republican aphorisms about “job creators” and regulatory “red tape,” and heralds the many supposed triumphs of Trump’s young presidency. As he nears the end of his remarks, his happy-warrior buoyancy gives way to a more sober cadence. “We’ve come to a pivotal moment in the life of this country,” Pence soulfully intones. “It’s a good time to pray for America.” His voice rising in righteous fervor, the vice president promises an opening of the heavens. “If His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray,” he proclaims, “He’ll hear from heaven, and He’ll heal this land!”
Mike Pence. Who was selected for this role by Paul Manafort. Is the one man in the White House who is content to sit and watch … from a distance.
For all his aw-shucks modesty, Pence is a man who believes heaven and Earth have conspired to place him a heartbeat—or an impeachment vote—away from the presidency.
What should concern Pence is not what has leaked to the public, but what has come into the hands of Robert Mueller. Because while Pence may be taking care to always carry his 10-foot pole while in Trump’s company, it’s difficult to believe he was always so cautious. Or so ignorant.
While Pence waits and hopes for the Big Boy Chair to open up before Mueller turns his way, Pence’s wife may be waiting with just a little less patience. Because while Mike Pence is happy to bow and scrape for Trump, Karen Pence … well …
“She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”