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The problem(s) with Mike Pence taking aim at the Lincoln Project

To hear Mike Pence tell it, the Lincoln Project put unfortunate thoughts in Donald Trump's head. In reality, that's not what happened.


As former Vice President Mike Pence prepares to release a new book, ahead of the Republican’s likely national campaign, the Hoosier has a new op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on his “last days with Donald Trump.” It included a claim I don’t recall him making before:

By mid-December, the internet was filled with speculation about my role [in the elections process]. An irresponsible TV ad by a group calling itself the Lincoln Project suggested that when I presided over the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes, it would prove that I knew “it’s over,” and that by doing my constitutional duty, I would be “putting the final nail in the coffin” of the president’s re-election. To my knowledge, it was the first time anyone implied I might be able to change the outcome. It was designed to annoy the president. It worked.

According to Pence’s version of events, the outgoing president told him at a Cabinet meeting that the Lincoln Project’s ad “looked bad” for Pence.

At this point, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking: “What Lincoln Project ad?”

Evidently, the former vice president was referring to this post-election video, created by the group of Trump critics. It was a derisive message to the outgoing president, explaining that Pence knew the process was over and the certification of the results on Jan. 6 would prove it.

In the op-ed, Pence said this was “the first time” that someone had “implied” he might be able to change the outcome of the election. But there’s a problem with that.

For one thing, the video includes no such implication. It simply stated as fact that the then-vice president would certify the results.

For another, blaming the Lincoln Project for putting ideas in Trump’s head is bizarre given everything else we know about the post-election period. Indeed, the Lincoln Project’s clip didn’t exactly break new ground: Members of Team Trump had prepared a series of outlandish legal memos sketching out schemes to use Pence to help the defeated president claim illegitimate power.

In other words, there’s blame to go around, but pointing the finger at the Lincoln Project doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

As for the larger context, my MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown raised an important point this morning:

It’s not that I object to Pence’s recounting his side of the story. It’s that I’m annoyed that he’s yet another Trump administration official who chose to sell a book months or years later rather than speak out when it matters. .... [I]t’s not like there aren’t several investigations into the attack that would love to hear from Pence about what he saw and heard. If Mike Pence really wants to show America that he understands the gravity of what happened in his last days in office, he should be telling what he knows to the Justice Department or the Jan. 6 committee. If he really wants, he can plug his book while testifying under oath.

It’s entirely unclear at this point whether Pence and his team have tried to work out any kind of arrangement with the Jan. 6 committee, but his op-ed — and presumably, the former vice president’s book — provides chronological details and behind-the-scenes accounts that will likely be of interest to investigators.

Maybe this represents the Republican’s weird and indirect way of trying to cooperate with the official congressional probe?