On Sunday morning, much of the country’s attention was focused on Donald Trump’s announcement on the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and for good reason. When a military raid leads to the death of ISIS’s founder and leader, it’s a major development of international significance.
But also on Sunday morning, Vice President Mike Pence sat down with CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, who asked on Face the Nation about the Trump administration’s ongoing Ukraine scandal. The host noted, for example, that at least four U.S. officials have now testified under oath about their knowledge of a proposed deal with Ukraine about a Biden-related investigation. Brennan asked, “Are they all lying?”
Pence replied, “Well, I can only tell you what I know. And what I know is that the transcript of [Trump’s] call with President Zelensky shows that there was no quid pro quo.”
It was a problematic response for a few reasons. The “transcript,” for example, was really more of a call summary, and it may not fully reflect a word-for-word record of what was said. What’s more, the summary is actually quite incriminating – which is why the White House’s allies believe it was a “huge mistake” for Trump to release it – a fact that’s made worse by additional details that have since come to light.
But of even greater interest was Pence’s assertion that he’s only prepared to say what he personally knows. In other words, the vice president wasn’t prepared to endorse the White House’s talking points in their entirety, so much as he was willing to speak to his own narrow vantage point.
This became a problematic posture when the host asked, over and over again, whether Pence was aware of the larger scheme Team Trump was trying to execute with Ukraine. This was the final Brennan effort to get a straight answer from the vice president:
BRENNAN: I haven’t gotten a clear answer from you on that though, sir. I do have to leave the interview there. But are you saying that you did not ever hear of such a deal? Is that what I understand you are describing?
PENCE: I’m telling you that all of my interactions with [Trump], all of my conversations with President Zelensky, were entirely focused on issues of importance to the American people, ending corruption, enlisting more European support and supporting Ukraine in a way that would restore its territorial integrity and stand by Ukraine for its sovereignty.
Pence was given multiple opportunities to say there was no proposed quid-pro-quo deal with Ukraine. He simply wasn’t willing to make the assertion.
The vice president, who has been implicated in the controversy, tried to emphasize that he personally wasn’t involved in a quid-pro-quo scheme.
As Aaron Blake noted, “It’s crystal clear why Pence is doing this. It doesn’t mean he knows there was a quid pro quo, necessarily. But it’s pretty evident that he’s not at all comfortable completely denying it.”