In Iowa on Wednesday, CNN’s Randi Kaye asked Vice President Mike Pence whether he stood by his strongly stated opposition to foreign governments involving themselves in US elections in light of President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine to dig dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Well I do, I think that’s why President Trump is so concerned about foreign interference in our election in Ukraine. If you read the transcript, you will see that the President said to President Zelensky that our country had been through a lot, and then had a question about foreign interference in our 2016 election. I mean, to be honest with you when did you all lose interest in foreign interference in the 2016 election. President Trump wants to get to the truth. He wants to know what happened in 2016. And the American people have a right to know whether former vice president who was representing and leading the United States’ interests in Ukraine was in any way impacted by the fact that his son was being paid $50,000 a month to be on the board of a major Ukrainian energy company.”
I have read the transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Many times. And I know in it, Trump says this:
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
On the first “favor,” Trump is talking about a totally debunked conspiracy theory that somehow the physical Democratic National Committee server is actually in the Ukraine. And that it contains, uh, secrets?
Trump’s second ask of Zelensky has zero to do with the 2016 election and everything to do with the 2020 election. Biden wasn’t on the ticket in 2016 but he is one of the Democratic frontrunners in 2020 to take on Trump.
So, by definition, what Trump is doing in that call — the rough transcript of which was released by the White House! — is seeking foreign interference (or, at a minimum, foreign dirt digging) in a future presidential election. There’s simply no other way to read it — whether or not you believe that there was an implicit quid pro quo in Trump’s requests or not.
Which gets us back to Pence. And specifically, what he said about foreign interference during the 2016 campaign. Which was this: “This is basic stuff. Foreign donors, and certainly foreign governments, cannot participate in the American political process.”
What changed? Well, back in 2016 Pence was attacking the fact that the Clinton Foundation had accepted donations from foreign governments for its charitable work. And now, well, Trump is the president. And Pence has to defend Trump at all costs.
But folks, this defense makes zero sense. Like, none. It’s totally clear that Trump was asking Zelensky for help in digging up dirt on the leading Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential race. He was not simply telling Zelensky that “our country had been through a lot, and then had a question about foreign interference in our 2016 election” as Pence described it. That is simply not accurate.
Pence is, as always, being the loyal soldier for Trump. Not because he believes what he is saying — he said the exact opposite less than three years ago! — but because he knows that no matter how much he is criticized by the media for this obvious contradiction, Trump will like it. And that’s all that matters for Pence as he looks toward a future in which he needs Trump’s support for his own presidential bid.