As the Trump White House lurches from crisis to crisis, Mike Pence has a simple message: It wasn’t me.
Against the backdrop of constant White House scandal, Pence has cast himself either in the role of “victim” or “stabilizing” force. These efforts have recently become more public and more brazen.
Pence’s press secretary on Thursday, for example, promoted a story on Fox News declaring that Pence has taken “the lead” in advancing the White House agenda and describing him as “a stable presence during crisis.”
— Marc Lotter (@VPPressSec) May 19, 2017
This position, however, is increasingly becoming untenable. Pence finds himself at the center of the most acute controversy facing the White House — the appointment of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser.
Pence insists that he didn’t know Flynn was secretly lobbying for the Turkish government until it was publicly reported in March. “It’s the first I heard of it, and I think it is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign,” Pence told Fox News at the time.
This claim took a hit earlier this week when the New York Times reported that Flynn had told the transition team he was under federal investigation for failing to report his lobbying work.
Pence was in charge of the transition. In response to the news, Pence released a statement saying he “stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey.”
But Pence has more to worry about than the New York Times report. Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to Pence in November warning him that Flynn was lobbying on behalf of Turkey.
Cummings requested that Pence provide him with a copy of Flynn’s conflict of interest statement and asked for assurances that the future national security adviser wasn’t involved in any issues in which he had a financial conflict of interest.
A source close to Pence told NBC, “I’m not sure we saw the letter.”
The Trump transition, however, officially acknowledged receiving the letter from Cummings and promised it would be reviewed “carefully.”
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) May 19, 2017
Cummings letter was based on public reports in widely-read publications. If Pence wasn’t aware of Flynn’s activities until March it means he was unaware of: 1. Flynn’s own report to the transition team, 2. Cummings letter, 3. Public news reports.
That leaves Pence either complicit in Flynn’s conduct or, at a minimum, demonstrating negligent indifference to the ethical issues of key members of Trump staff.
Team Pence, however, continues to push the idea that he is a victim. A source tells NBC that there is a “‘pattern’ of not informing the vice president.”
This piece was updated to include the Trump transition’s official acknowledgement of Cummings letter.