Mike Pence Knew | Opinion

The Zelensky call accomplished what the Mueller report could not. Once again, the president abused his power and tried to cover it up. This time, it will cost him. As a consequence of the Ukraine scandal, the House will impeach Donald Trump, and the Senate will find ample cause to convict him.

As a practical matter, however, this presents a whole new problem. Whatever Trump did with regard to Ukraine, Mike Pence was mixed up in it, too. We know that Pence read, or at least was given a transcript of, Trump's call with Volodymyr Zelensky. We know he met with the Ukrainian president in Warsaw. And we know that Pence had his own call with Zelensky—a fact that Trump himself offered up unsolicited, seemingly eager to spread around the blame. "I think you should ask for Vice President Pence's conversation," Trump tattled to reporters, "because he had a couple of conversations also." The president characterized the Pence-Zelensky calls as "perfect." Congress is not so sure and has formally requested transcripts of those calls. Despite saying a month ago that he had "no objection" to releasing the transcripts, Pence has yet to do so.

The vice president has assured us of his innocence. "As I said the day after that meeting," he told reporters, "we focused entirely, in my meeting with President Zelensky of Ukraine, on the issues that President Trump has raised as a concern, namely the lack of support from European partners for Ukraine and real issues of corruption in Ukraine." But this rings hollow.

When asked point-blank whether he was aware of Trump shaking down Zelensky to implicate Joe Biden, the former debate team champion twisted himself into a rhetorical pretzel to avoid a direct answer. "I never discussed the issue of the Bidens with President Zelensky," Pence said. His evasive response to that explicit question is clearly not the same as "I had no advance knowledge of Trump's desire to smear Biden."

It strains credulity to believe that Pence was unaware of Trump's crooked intentions. If Bill Taylor and Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison and Gordon Sondland and John Eisenberg and Mike Pompeo and Rick Perry and Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton and the still-anonymous whistleblower all knew what Trump was up to regarding Biden and Ukraine, how could Trump's second banana possibly be in the dark?

It's not like Mike Pence is the poster boy for telling the truth. He's lied before to cover Trump's shady dealings—as in his January 2017 appearance on Face the Nation, when John Dickerson asked him if anyone on the Trump campaign had meetings with Russians. "Of course not" was his indignant—and mendacious—reply.

Mike Pence and Donald Trump
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens to President Donald Trump during a conference call on October 18 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty

Nor is this the first instance in which Pence has pleaded—or, perhaps, feigned—ignorance. In early 2017, the vice president claimed he learned that then–national security adviser Mike Flynn, his former Trump transition team deputy, had discussed sanctions in his December meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak by reading the exclusive in The Washington Post. The rest of the Trump team was aware weeks before the story broke. In her congressional testimony, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates said Flynn was a liar and "compromised with respect to the Russians." Yates was urgently concerned that Pence was "making false statements to the public" regarding Flynn that "we knew to be untrue."

Finally, bear in mind how Pence came to be vice president in the first place. Trump selected him as his running mate over Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, two men he personally preferred, at the insistence of Paul Manafort—a convicted felon and traitor to his country. As Tom LoBianco recounts in Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House, a chance flat tire on "Trump Force One" kept Trump overnight in Indianapolis, so the key sit-down took place at Pence's gubernatorial residence, rather than Trump's gaudy Manhattan apartment. Regarding the "miracle flat tire," LoBianco wrote, "Some aides saw God's hand at work. Others saw Paul Manafort's." Manafort was Putin's guy, and Pence was Manafort's.

The American people need the truth. The VP needs to come clean. If Pence knew what Trump was up to—if he observed the president flagrantly breaking the law and did nothing to stop him; or if, worse, he aided and abetted the illicit activity—he should resign immediately. It makes no sense for Congress to remove Trump, only to elevate an accomplice to the same crimes. Do we really want to replace the guy who robbed the bank with the guy who drove the getaway car?

Greg Olear (@gregolear) is the author of Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia and the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

Dirty Rubles