Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Trump Card: Why VP Pence is Never Going to be Trump's Impeachment Ace in the Hole

by Nomad

VP Pence

There was a time when vice-president Mike Pence was thought to be the Republican trump card. Any discussion of impeachment was countered with Pence's option of pardoning any and all of the accused- whether or not they were convicted of any crimes. 
However, as the scandalous stain of Russian collusion expanding, that's becoming more and more unlikely.

Pence's Sinking Ship

In June, with the Trump Administration deep in the Russian collusion scandal, vice-president Mike Pence announced that his longtime aide and chief of staff would be stepping down.
In a variety of roles, Josh Pitcock had been with Pence since 2005. Starting to the time when Pence served in the House of Representatives, to Pence's term as Indiana governor, where Pence went, Pitcock was sure to follow. 
And at the beginning of a tumultuous summer, he bolted.
Meanwhile, the once vague allegations of wrongdoing looked more and more realistic.   

Last month, something similar happened. Pence's press secretary, Marc Lotter, also said "hasta la vista" to the administration. In that case, Lotter saw a brighter future in making the rounds defending Trump and Pence in the news media as a so-called surrogate. 

If his recent forays are any indication, he has his work cut out for him. Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC thrashed and trashed Lotter in a panel discussion a few days ago. Dismissing his narrative, Wallace bluntly said:  
“I hope they’re paying you a lot of money.. I’ll send an e-mail to friends at Fox [News], and you can peddle your propaganda there.”
Defending the Trump-Pence administration is becoming thankless and more and more hopeless. Blatant lies told by so many officials are being exposed, scrubbed and revised, only to see those new lies soon exposed as well.
If it is hard for you or I to keep up with all of these piling fabrications, it is equally hard for the people involved.

Mike Pence

The Republican's White Knight

For Republicans, the one shining salvation in this fiasco has always been that no matter what happened to Trump, the fall-back guy was Mike Pence.
It was thought to be an absolute certainty that, if Trump was forced out of office, Pence would be able to step into the Oval Office and clean the mess up. (Presumably by using his newly-won presidential pardoning superpowers.) Things could be stitched together and Republicans would come out of this unscathed. That's what counts for realism in today's GOP. 

In May, there were some portentous things going on behind the scenes. Pence launched a political action committee which sources said:
was aimed at promoting a possible future presidential bid at a time when some conservatives have started whispering about the possibility of President Donald Trump's impeachment.
This action started a debate in the media. It was certainly an unheard of step for any vice-president. What was really going on? CNN said that this had nothing to do with higher political aspirations at all. It had, they speculated, a lot more to do with paying for legal fees. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal disagreed.    

In June, that position took a hit when Pence hired Richard Cullen, a former United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as his personal criminal defense lawyer.  As a partner at McGuireWoods LLP, Cullen's area of expertise was complex commercial litigation; government, regulatory and criminal investigations and importantly, white collar defense.

In the past, Cullen was one of the lawyers who defended Bank of America in a multistate investigation into the bank’s foreclosure practices. Pence's choice of defense lawyers could be a reflection of Pence's most pressing co%ncerns about the Mueller investigation and what it might uncover.


"The Servile Schemer"

How much even a top-notch attorney can do to rescue the situation remains to be seen. Making things just a bit more challenging, Pence has repeatedly told conflicting stories about what he knew and did not know what was going on during the Trump campaign, with regards to Russian ties.  That Pence would resort to misleading the public should surprise nobody.

His inability to tell the truth on any subject is probably his most definable character trait. So much so that an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe labeled him "the servile schemer who would be president."
Columnist Richard North Patterson called Pence, "a fawning puppet— even by the standards of vice presidents."
People who know Pence well would probably agree with that assessment, some privately, some publically.
When Donald Trump selected Indiana’s governor to run with him, local observers were dumbfounded. They knew Pence as a comically ambitious, rigid, and inept right-wing evangelical — a climate-change denying, Darwin-doubting zealot who, before leaving Congress, had left no mark beyond his sulfurous opposition to reproductive and gay rights. And his accession to the governorship, meant to position him as presidential timber, had foundered on the fundamentalist verities that define his mental cul-de-sac.
For liberals, everything about Pence is a horror story. His theocratic ideas too frightening to contemplate. Things could be decidedly worse, they say, if Trump steps aside and Pence becomes president.

In that way- if in no other- Trump knew exactly what he was doing selecting Pence as his running mate. As vulgar and incompetent, as nauseating and deranged as Trump appears as President, the man who would succeed him is, in a whole lot of ways, the greater of the two evils. Pence is far worse than any talking yam.

Hearts quivered back in August when rumors circulated that Pence was laying the groundwork for his own presidential run in 2020. Pence called the idea "laughable and absurd."

Nobody was laughing at the idea except perhaps one man. Last month, President Trump had the arrogance to remind the public of this when he laughing told a reporter not to ask Pence about LGBTQ rights and gestured to the vice president.
“Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
Because joking about the lynching of minorities is one surefire knee-slapper in the Trump age.

Despite the ever-widening spread of the Russian scandal and the obstruction of justice charges, the bottom line for Trump is he will remain in power until the bitter end. And, if worse comes to worst, then Pence the fawning puppet will bail him out.

Paul Manafort - Mike Pence

Trump's Spreading Taint

As dread-inspiring as this all is, there is one thing that both Trump and Pence did not reckon with. The taint of Russian collusion during the campaign has infected the vice presidency as well.  

Mike Pence didn't formally come onboard as Trump's running mate until July 14, 2016. That, in theory, should put him in a safe place when it came to the Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign staff and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9. 
As soon as the news broke about this clandestine meeting, Pence immediately claimed that he was not aware of the meeting and that he was too busy with other things. Important things.

Yet, Pence had substantial ties to Paul Manafort who was one of the first of three people indicted in Mueller's probe. In fact, Manafort played a key role in putting Pence in the White House.
As The Nation reported a few days ago:
It was Manafort who brought Pence, the scandal-plagued and politically vulnerable governor of Indiana, who had backed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in that state’s Republican primary, into consideration as a vice-presidential prospect for Trump. Referring to Trump, Manafort explained last summer that “I brought him in to meet Pence.” That manipulation, said Manafort, fostered the notion that Pence “had value to Trump as a potential VP nominee.”
The Pence-Manafort connection goes deeper than that. CBS News reported that not only did Manafort handpick Pence, Pence was Manafort's "first choice," superseding Chris Christie. Manafort went to extraordinary efforts to ensure that Trump would select Pence.
This lovey-dovey relationship didn't last long.

On 19 August 2016, after a slew of damaging accusations his lobbying efforts for pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs, Manafort resigned.
(Remember too that Manafort's lobbying was all aimed at expanding in the US the influence of people like Oleg Deripaska, a man who has been called "a close Putin ally")
Trump's son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, Jared Kushner, had once been a chief supporter of Manafort. Kushner, who had once been instrumental in Manafort's elevation, dumped him like a girlfriend with a bad case of halitosis.

For some bewildering reason, any mention of covert Russian connections made Manafort radioactive to Trump's staff.Through all of the resignations and firings and what-not, Mike Pence remained.
Something of a miracle too.

The notion that Sessions or Kushner or Manafort all would have neglected to informed Pence of his meeting with the Russian lawyer in the Manhattan hotel room is simply not credible. Is it really plausible that all of those people would have been in the loop and Pence was in the dark?
No, it was surely discussed at some point before election day. Or before it came out in the press in July of this year.
Is it really believable that Pence -who regularly sat down at meeting with all of the key players in this scandal- would have somehow not have been informed? Hard to imagine.

All of that is going to come out when Manafort's trial commences. At this moment, only Mueller and his staff know the answer with a high degree of certainty. And they are holding their cards close to their vests.

Pence and Flynn

And this is only one of many instances in which Pence's denial does not ring true. Take the Mike Flynn resignation. Pence told Fox News he wasn't aware of Flynn's work on behalf of foreign governments. Yet as leader of  Trump's transition team, Pence should have known. How could he not have known? It was his job to know. 
It wasn't ancient history. Flynn was selected to become Trump's national security advisor. One of the most important unelected advisory positions in the executive branch. In that position, Flynn was to have access to the president far beyond even his own cabinet. 

To make matters worse for Pence, Flynn stated that he informed the Trump transition team prior to Inauguration Day that he was under federal investigation for his work on behalf of the Turkish government.  Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was fired after making a diligent attempt to warn the White House about the possibility of Flynn being blackmailed.

With everybody sticking to contradictory alibis, Pence's defense has more holes than a mesh bikini.
Here's an excerpt from the Rachel Maddow Show in September.

Maddow puts her finger on the Pence dilemma.
Mike Pence has a real problem in the Russia investigation and in some of these White House scandals again and again and again vice-president Pence really has made brazenly untrue public statements about some of the most controversial elements of this new administration and the Russia scandal specifically.
At this point, we can only speculate about how much Mueller has on Vice-president Pence. How damaging it will be for Pence when it eventually becomes public is also uncertain.

However, it is safe to say, even now, that Pence will very likely not be in any position to pardon the president. He is too close to the center of the action. There's every indication that Pence's political career will probably not survive the Trump debacle.

In fact, there's every possibility that he will soon be going the way of Paul Manafort, his business partner Rick Gates and Trump's chief foreign policy advisor and coffee-boy, George Papadopoulos.

For an overview of Pence's career, check out the video below: