Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence celebrate, during the final day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. 
Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty

VP Mike Pence offers a curious take on Russia scandal developments

Updated
Asked why he fired Michael Flynn, the former White House National Security Advisor, Donald Trump told reporters last week Flynn was doing great work, but he “didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the facts.” The president added, “I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple.’

But it wasn’t “very simple” at all. Trump was reportedly alerted to the truth weeks earlier, but waited to oust Flynn until the public – and, by some accounts, Pence – learned the truth.

And what does Pence have to say about this? The vice president was in Brussels yesterday, participating in talks with European Union and NATO leaders, and as USA Today reported, Pence addressed the Flynn controversy publicly for the first time.
“I would tell you that I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate,” Pence said in his first public discussion of the matter. “But we honor General Flynn’s long service to the United States of America, and I fully support the president’s decision to ask for his resignation.

“And it was the proper decision, it was handled properly and in a timely way.”
It’s the use of the word “timely” that sticks out like a sore thumb. Flynn spoke to Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, several times on Dec. 29. Two weeks later, according to the White House’s own version of events, Flynn told Pence his communications were unrelated to U.S. sanctions, and on Jan. 15, Pence assured the public that sanctions were not part of the Flynn/Kislyak discussions.

On Jan. 26, acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House that Flynn and Kislyak did, in fact, discuss sanctions, but it wasn’t until Feb. 14 that Flynn was forced out. A variety of adjectives come to mind, but “timely” isn’t one of them.

Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to know quite what to make of Mike Pence’s role in this mess.

The vice president put his credibility on the line – twice. Pence told the nation that a top member of Team Trump did not discuss sanctions with Putin’s government in December, and that turned out to be untrue. Pence also told the nation that no one from the Trump campaign spoke to Russia before the election, and that was also apparently untrue.

And yet, despite these falsehoods, Pence has effectively positioned himself as some kind of victim. Trump’s people lied to the vice president, the story goes, and he only gave false information to Americans because the White House gave false information to him.

We are, by all appearances, supposed to see Pence as someone on the outside looking in when it comes to Trump’s inner circle, which, to borrow Iran-Contra framing, leaves the vice president “out of the loop.”

It’s possible, of course, that this version of events is accurate. Maybe Pence didn’t mean to mislead the country, and it really was Team Trump’s fault that the vice president ended up damaging his own credibility inadvertently.

But there are plenty of questions in need of answers. Why would Flynn lie to Pence directly? Why wouldn’t the White House let Pence know when officials had reason to believe Flynn’s claims weren’t true? When exactly did Pence learn the truth and what did he do in response?

After he learned the facts, why didn’t Pence make an effort to set the record straight? Did anyone at the White House ask the vice president to remain quiet? Did he volunteer not to say anything?

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Russia and Scandals

VP Mike Pence offers a curious take on Russia scandal developments

Updated