The Democrat-led impeachment inquiry has now come for Trump’s right-hand man.
Top House Democrats have added another person to the growing list of diplomats, law enforcement officials, and intelligence officials they want information from as part of their impeachment inquiry into the president: Vice President Mike Pence.
On Friday, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Pence asking for documents that could shed light on what, if anything, he knew about Trump’s intentions toward Ukraine. The three men respectively chair the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees, all of which are tasked with running the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry.
The letter specifically requested that Pence turn over all documents related to “the Administration’s attempts to press the Ukrainian President to open an investigation into former Vice President Biden or election interference in 2016,” as well as “the reasons behind the White House’s decision to delay critical military assistance to Ukraine.”
That includes briefing documents related to his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and summaries of administration meetings on Ukraine.
And, of course, they particularly want any documents related to Pence’s involvement in the scandal.
How Pence factors into the Ukraine scandal
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Trump repeatedly “used” Pence to exert pressure on Ukraine. For example, in May Trump told the vice president not to attend the inauguration of new President Volodymyr Zelensky, knowing full well that Kyiv craves close ties with Washington.
And in September, the Post continues, Pence met with Zelensky in Poland and “conveyed the news that hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to Ukraine was not going to be released amid concerns about the country’s lagging efforts to combat corruption.”
That’s a big deal. On the now infamous Trump-Zelensky call on July 25, Trump asked his counterpart to do him a “favor” before receiving military aid — a part of which included starting an investigation into the Bidens. Trump believes that’s the corruption Ukraine needs to deal with, despite no actual evidence of malfeasance.
But according to officials close to Pence who spoke to the Post, Pence either didn’t read the transcript of that call or let its contents fully sink in. (A Pence aide disputes this, saying he would’ve been prepared for the meeting.) It doesn’t help Pence’s cause that one of his top advisers was on the Trump-Zelensky call, so it’s possible the vice president received a more detailed readout in person.
Pence denies knowing anything about Trump’s seeming plan to pressure Ukraine to help him politically by interfering in the 2020 election. But it appears the three Democrats don’t take his word for it.
“Recently, public reports have raised questions about any role you may have played in conveying or reinforcing the President’s stark message to the Ukrainian President,” the chairs wrote in their letter. They continue:
The reports include specific references to a member of your staff who may have participated directly in the July 25, 2019, call, documents you may have obtained or reviewed, including the record of the call, and your September 1, 2019, meeting with the Ukrainian President in Warsaw, during which you reportedly discussed the Administration’s hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.
The main problem for House Democrats is that the White House has already said it won’t cooperate with the congressional inquiry. Which means they’re unlikely to receive the documents they want without a fight — or if they do, it won’t be in a timely fashion.
Indeed, shortly after the letter was sent to Pence, the vice president’s press secretary Katie Waldman indicated as much. “It does not appear to be a serious request but just another attempt by the Do Nothing Democrats to call attention to their partisan impeachment,” Waldman said, according to Voice of America’s Steve Herman.
The likeliest outcome, then, is an even bigger fight between Democrats, Trump, and his allies — as if the current fight wasn’t big enough.
Listen to Today, Explained
In its sixth episode on the impeachment scandal, our podcast explains how the Ukraine finds itself at the center of the American political drama, yet President Trump is the least of the country’s worries.
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Author: Alex Ward