Pence is 'grappling with unknowns' during Trump's impeachment trial

Since Pence has been implicated in Trump's Ukraine scandal, the impeachment trial is a little awkward for the vice president.
Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike PenceNICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

During Bill Clinton's impeachment ordeal, the Democratic president's vice president, was able to play an important role. Al Gore, untouched by the scandal that threatened Clinton's presidency, was free to be a surrogate, a defender, and a cheerleader for his partner in the Oval Office.

More than two decades later, it's not quite that simple for the current vice president, since Mike Pence has been implicated in Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal. Politico had a good report on this yesterday, noting that the Indiana Republican's future will also be shaped by the president's ongoing saga.

Though the outcome of Trump's trial has appeared preordained for weeks -- conviction and removal from office would require an unrealistic 20 Republican defections-- potential witnesses and new evidence released by House Democrats last Tuesday could entangle the vice president in a mess he has deliberately tried to sidestep as he considers a White House bid of his own in 2024.

But despite his best efforts, Pence keeps getting pulled into the scandal at the heart of impeachment -- that the president withheld financial aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce politically advantageous probes. Pence met with Ukraine's president in Trump's place during the period the aid was being withheld, Trump has suggested reporters press Pence about his communications with the Ukrainian leader and several figures have accused Pence of knowing about the scheme, which the vice president denies.

The report added that Pence is "grappling with other unknowns," including uncertainty about whether former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton might testify in such a way that further implicated the vice president in Trump's scheme.

Politico quoted a source close to Pence who said, "If there came a point where Mike was seriously forced to weigh his own career against his loyalty to Trump, that would be one hell of a twist."

I mention all of this because it sometimes seems as if Pence's role in the Ukraine mess is overlooked, which is a shame, because unlike Al Gore during the last impeachment trial, the current vice president is in an exceedingly awkward spot.

In early October, the Washington Post reported that Trump "repeatedly involved" Pence in the Ukraine scheme, including an instance in which the president "instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May -- an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president's calendar -- when Ukraine's new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington."

A month later, NBC News reported on claims from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said he directly told Pence about his concerns regarding a possible link between the release of military aid to Ukraine and the announcement of Ukrainian anti-Biden investigations.

And last week, of course, Rachel spoke with Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani associate involved with executing the Ukraine scheme, who said he'd communicated to Ukrainian officials that Pence would not attend Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration unless they agreed to announce an anti-Biden investigation.

Asked whether Pence was aware of a "quid pro quo" around the visit, Parnas replied, "Everybody was in the loop."

The vice president's office has denied any wrongdoing and has disputed the recent allegations.

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