Pressed on scandal, Pence struggles with straightforward question

10/09/19 06:55PM
Watch: Pence evades repeated questions on Trump's Ukraine plot
Vice President Mike Pence probably hoped to keep his distance from Donald Trump's intensifying Ukraine scandal, but those efforts aren't going especially well. The Washington Post reported last week that the president "repeatedly involved" the Indiana Republican "in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine."

As regular readers know, the timeline of events paints an exceedingly unflattering picture, featuring a vice president making an unpersuasive case that he was ignorant about Trump's scheme, despite having ample access to the relevant information.

It was against this backdrop that Pence was in Iowa yesterday, where NBC News' Vaughn Hillyard asked the vice president whether he was aware the Trump administration was delaying aid to Ukraine, at least in part to get Ukraine to go after Joe Biden. Pence said several words, none of which answered the question.

So, Hillyard asked again, and Pence evaded again. In all, the video of the event showed the NBC News reporter asking the vice president four times. It wasn't a trick question. A "yes" or a "no" would've sufficed.

But Pence wasn't prepared to answer directly, instead saying he personally didn't discuss the Bidens with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky. Perhaps not, but Pence did talk to the Ukrainian leader about Trump's "corruption" concerns, which Zelensky would understand as a reference to Trump's desire for a Biden-related investigation.

New York's Jon Chait added, in reference to Pence's evasive answers to Vaughn Hillyard's question:

When Pence met with Zelensky and was asked about the aid freeze, was he aware that Trump's priorities were getting Ukraine to investigate his domestic opponents, including the Bidens? Pence won't say.

The answer is yes, he was aware. He was given a readout of Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky, and when a reporter asked him on September 2 if the aid was being held up to compel the Biden probe, he answered in the affirmative, reframing it in the administration's "corruption" code word. If Pence thought he could sustain a defense that he didn't know what Trump wanted, he would.

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, an MSNBC contributor, also noted, "It's not just that Pence won't answer [Hillyard's] questions, it's also his demeanor -- struggling, halting, clearly aware the truth is not his ally."

The vice president and his team have had a few weeks to craft their talking points and get their story straight. It doesn't appear to be going well.