Monday, March 12, 2018

BTRTN: What Does Pence Know, and When Did He Know It?

If Mueller really and truly has the goods on the Donald, can anybody in Trump’s immediate orbit escape the debris field?   So far, Mike Pence has managed to stay out of the headlines, but his proximity to the throne could make him collateral damage. Steve wonders what happens if Mueller has the evidence to take down both…

As Robert Mueller’s investigators advance on Donald Trump like Patton’s Third Army across France, we pause to consider questions that might seem arcane and remote now, but could suddenly become the center of national debate should articles of impeachment actually be drafted. No doubt the single most consequential issue is that of the status of one Mike Pence. 

You know Mike. ABC captured his frosty stare at the Winter Olympics as he tried to avoid any implication that he was colluding with Kim Yo Jung while she enjoyed her fifteen minutes of fame a few seats down. Aside from that, he’s only been spotted lately on a few milk cartons in Indiana, where at least they notice that he is MIA.

But that’s probably exactly the way Pence wants it now. With a White House in a full-on Fukushima Daiichi meltdown that is sending even the most entrenched White House staffers screaming for the exits, Mike Pence is probably packing a metal detector to avoid accidentally running into a microphone. Pence is no doubt aware of a fascinating fact: the Vice-President is the only member of the Executive Branch who cannot be fired – directly or indirectly -- by Donald Trump. So the way Mike is figuring things, all he needs to do – and all he should do – is keep his head down and let the meltdown melt. If Trump gets impeached, guess who moves into the Oval Office? If Trump finally and irrevocably alienates Republicans, who is best positioned to take over party leadership? And if Trump can somehow stay in office for eight years, guess who is first in line for the GOP 2024 nomination? No matter what, Mikey likes it! The only thing that can screw things up for Mike Pence is if Mike Pence gets quoted saying anything riskier than “the curling competition is exciting,” and “since when are U.S. Olympic athletes allowed to be gay?”

But momentarily setting aside his deep seeded homophobia and throwback misogyny, there are other very serious issues about being Mike Pence.

Think about this: when Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were threatened by impeachment proceedings, their Vice-Presidents were galaxies away from the problem. Gerald Ford had replaced the disgraced Spiro Agnew as Vice-President in December, 1973, long after the Watergate break-in, and already well into the burning investigation into a Presidential cover-up.  Indeed, the legislators who acted on the 25th Amendment to confirm the appointment of Gerald Ford as VP had a clear sense that they were picking the next President of the United States. When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, Vice President Al Gore was nowhere near the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and had nothing to do with the lying under oath that was the actual grounds for impeachment.  Both of these Vice Presidents were in excellent standing to assume the Presidency if need be, as neither had the slightest stain from the scandals emanating from the Oval Office.

Mike Pence, however, is in a very different situation. Start with the fact that Mike Pence is the most senior person outside of the Trump family who has been continuously in Trump’s inner circle since the Republican Convention. It is actually pretty hard to say that you are Vice President of the United States, trusted advisor to the President, head cheerleader in the photo op cabinet meetings, and still simultaneously claim to be completely out of the loop on the most profound ongoing controversy of the Trump administration.

Put most simply: if Donald Trump is served with articles of impeachment based on evidence of fraudulent business activity, collusion with a foreign government to undermine our elections, and/or obstruction of justice, is it really possible that Mike Pence will prove to be wholly uninvolved in every piece of evidence that Mueller’s team will bring to the table?

If, indeed, it is discovered that Mike Pence was present during a discussion that is proffered as evidence of obstruction of justice, how can he not be impeached as well, simultaneously? If Mike Pence, the second most senior officer of government, was in any way exposed to an act of obstruction and said and did nothing about it, he is essentially a party to the cover-up. There is no such thing as “only obstructing justice a tiny little bit.” You are innocent, or you are guilty. 

And on which side of that line is Mike Pence?

We will start with the conjecture that Mike Pence’s plan to steer clear of Mr. Mueller’s telescopic lens will be rooted in a claim of comprehensive ignorance, Sergeant-Shultz-style (“I know nothing, nothing, Major Strasser!!”). Were Pence to opt for what we can charitably call the “idiot defense,” I gotta tell you, I’d be tempted to believe him. Mike Pence appears to know nothing about a great many things, so a blanket claim of willful ignorance about possible Russian collusion and obstruction of justice would be spot-on with my image of Vice President Intellectual Tabula Rasa. Just look at this guy! Mike Pence has that perpetually blank, empty gaze of a tenth grader who has fallen irretrievably behind in a remedial geometry class. I have thirty-watt light bulbs that emit more heat than Mike Pence. Google “Mike Pence Quotes” and you get stuff like “The 25 Stupidest Quotes from Mike Pence.”

Unable to resist that particular search, I clicked and found that number two was this epic combination smash-down on liberals, Hollywood, and women in the military, in which Pence attempted to argue that the Disney movie Mulan was an intentional plot to subconsciously influence public opinion or order to advocate for women to serve in the Armed Services. These are Mike Pence’s actual words:

“I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat...Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Moral of the story: women in military, bad idea."
You see the point: if Mike Pence were to answer each and every question under oath by pleading woeful ignorance and terminal stupidity, the grand jury would find the testimony compelling and the evidence convincing beyond a reasonable doubt.

But Mike Pence is going to have a hard time claiming that for a year and half he showed up long enough to pick up his bi-weekly pay stub as Vice President and somehow managed to remain unaware of the raging inferno of legally questionable maneuvers emanating from this White House. 

Indeed, Mike Pence was at the epicenter of one of the earliest and most glowing pieces of radioactive Russian collusion contamination that has emerged to date. You’ll recall that when Michael Flynn was fired from his role as National Security Director, it was not because he lied to the FBI. It was because he lied to Mike Pence. Flynn had told Pence that he had not spoken about sanctions during a phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which Pence repeated on Face the Nation on January 17, 2017. This, in turn, prompted then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to march over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and inform the White House that Flynn was lying and therefore vulnerable to blackmail.  So Flynn was caught lying to Pence about the phone call, causing Pence to be embarrassed by erroneously defended Flynn on television. Are we to understand that Pence never stopped to say, “Hey, gang, WTF? Why was Flynn talking to Kislyak about sanctions? What idiot told him to do that?

Good question, Mr. Vice President.  Yes, it was that idiot.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Mike Pence is that he was actually one of the people who was told to “clear the room” – along with the far more publicized hall loiterer, Jeff Sessions – while Donald Trump asked only Comey to stay inside the Oval Office for the now famous February 14, 2017 meeting. It was after Sessions, Pence, and four other senior officials were asked to clear the room that Trump allegedly asked Comey if he could “let go” of the investigation into Flynn. Are we to believe that when Trump asked for that private time that neither Sessions nor Pence knew why Trump excluded them from the conversation? Are we expected to assume that once Comey emerged from the meeting that Pence and Sessions had no discussion about the Comey meeting with the President? When Pence finally heard Comey’s account of the meeting in Congressional testimony, are we to assume that Pence never asked Trump to give his account of the meeting?

The truth is that Mike Pence has been the Vice President for fifteen months in an administration that manufactures lies like breakfast sausage, that seeks to delegitimize the news industry, that targets our minorities, tramples the Constitution, demeans and undermines our intelligence agencies and has responded to a life-threatening attack on our democracy by doing nothing. And what has Mike Pence done in those fifteen months? As far as we can see, he’s watched a bunch of Norwegians win gold medals and hidden in plain sight on the milk cartons of ethical abdication.  

If Mueller indeed has something on Trump, the question will inevitably become, “what does Pence know and when did he know it?” Robert Mueller is proving to be running an investigation that is monumental in its scope, meticulous in its research, and we have every reason to believe that when he delivers his report, it will support its each and every allegation with hard facts, first hand witnesses, and a compelling narrative with no stone unturned.   

There is, on the one hand, a reasonable argument that Mike Pence was perceived to be such a mindless lackey that even Donald Trump thought he was not worth confiding in.

And then, on the other hand, there are the known unknowns and the unknown knowns. What if Flynn, Manafort, or Gates has already told Mueller about a meeting on the Podesta emails that Mike Pence attended? Or what if Sessions is subpoenaed and compelled to acknowledge that Trump told Pence and the Attorney General exactly what he said to Comey? Or that an electronic calendar will prove Pence attended a meeting that Mueller can prove to be toxic? 

What if Mueller finds two smoking guns, and all the NRA money in the world can’t save Trumpty Dumpty and his trusty sidekick Indiana Drones?

The logic from here goes bonkers.

If both Trump and Pence are impeached in the House – simultaneously convicted in the Senate of a “high crime or misdemeanor,” then what exactly does that mean for Presidential succession?  The process for succession outlined in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is contingent on there being either a sitting Vice President to succeed a vacant presidency, or a sitting president to fill a vacancy in the vice-presidency. With both offices vacant, the line of succession reverts to the traditional path, which would mean that the Speaker of the House would become president. Should articles of impeachment be introduced prior to election day, that would put House Speaker Paul Ryan in the extremely awkward position of presiding over the vote on articles of impeachment in which he personally stands to gain the presidency as a result

Or – crazier still – if impeachment and conviction take place in 2019 with a newly-Democratic House of Representatives, then the first female President of the United States could well be, uh, Nancy Pelosi. Somewhere out in flyover country the Tea Party faithful just felt a tremor in the force worse than Obi Wan Kenobi felt when Alderaan was blown to smithereens.

Just how farfetched is this particularly scenario?

Our sense is this: Robert Mueller strikes us as a guy who is thinking through the implications of the possibilities of a stunning array of scenarios. One such scenario is to realize how crippling it would be to the United States of America to have a President impeached and removed, only to then discover that his successor is tainted with criminal liability that also rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor. 

When Mueller finally plays his hand, he is going to want to be able to say – definitively, and with no doubt – one of two things: Pence is clean or… Pence is dirty. 

And right now, it’s impossible to know which way that card is going to get played.

All we can think now is that somebody in Mueller’s investigation has probably already been given a crucial investigative assignment: What does Pence know, and when did he know it?

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