Vice President Mike Pence’s team continues to distance their boss from the unfolding scandal surrounding President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, this time in a story published by The Washington Post about what the vice president knew about the call.
In the Post story, published Wednesday, Pence team members said a senior aide to the vice president was on the phone call in which Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.
The call was the focal point of a whistleblower complaint that alleged that Trump abused his office “to advance his personal interests” and that White House officials covered up the president’s misconduct.
Pence would have likely had access to a transcript of the call within hours, officials told the Post. They also said a five-page summary of the call would have been among the briefing notes the vice president took with him to Warsaw, Poland, for a meeting with Zelensky on Sept. 1.
But the officials insisted Pence was not aware of the call’s significance and that the vice president was unaware of Trump’s efforts to push Zelensky for incriminating information about Biden.
During their September meeting, Pence told Zelensky that the U.S. was not going to release millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine due to concerns that the country was not doing enough to combat corruption.
Former officials told the Post that Zelensky likely would have interpreted the vice president’s reference to corruption as “code” for what Trump mentioned in July: unsubstantiated allegations that then-Vice President Biden used his power to kill an investigation into a gas company for which his son worked.
But Pence’s team denied that the vice president was trying to deliver a veiled message.
“The president consistently raised concerns about corruption and the lack of burden sharing by European partners, so having run on an anti-corruption campaign, Zelensky was receptive to those messages,” Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, told the Post. “The vice president, as your reporting says, reported back to the president after the meeting and the aid was released.”
Pence has previously denied any wrongdoing in his interactions with Ukraine. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week, the vice president insisted his interactions with Zelensky “were all based upon proper considerations of how we support Ukraine, how we support their effort to end an era of corruption in their government and advance the interest of their sovereignty.”
Pence told Hannity that Trump “mentioned Vice President Biden and his son [to Zelensky] in the context of us wanting to see honest government. That’s exactly what the American taxpayer would expect.”
Trump has also vehemently denied any wrongdoing in his interactions with Ukrainian leaders. During a news conference in New York last week, the president appeared to try to deflect attention from himself by suggesting reporters look with equal scrutiny at Pence’s meeting with Zelensky.
“I think you should ask for Vice President Pence’s conversation, because he had a couple of conversations also,” Trump said. “I could save you a lot of time. They were all perfect. Nothing was mentioned of any import other than congratulations.”