WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has somehow managed to stay mostly above the impeachment fray consuming Washington.
Pence received early and explicit warning of the quid pro quo at the heart of Democrats’ impeachment case against Trump, right before Pence met with the president of Ukraine, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified on Wednesday
If Sondland is telling the truth, then Pence knew much more than he has admitted — and had a much deeper understanding of what really happened in the Ukraine scandal than anyone has yet suggested, in sworn testimony or otherwise.
Sondland now claims he briefed Pence about concerns that the hold-up in military assistance might be linked to investigations when Pence traveled to Poland to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in early September.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” Sondland testified Wednesday. “I recall mentioning that before the Zelensky meeting.”
If so, Pence knew exactly what Zelensky was worried about when he asked Pence at that meeting, why the assistance funds had been held up.
“During the actual meeting, President Zelensky raised the issue of security assistance directly with Vice President Pence,” Sondland testified. “The Vice President said he would speak to President Trump about it.”
When pressed by Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman about his conversation with Pence, Sondland hardly offered the Veep an easy out.
Goldman: “He didn’t say, Gordon, what are you talking about?"
Sondland: “He did not."
Goldman: “He didn’t say, what investigations?"
Sondland: “He did not."
That early warning paints Pence’s own public statement following the meeting with Zelensky in a darker light. Afterwards, Pence said he pressed Zelensky to do more to combat corruption — but it now becomes harder for Pence to maintain that pressure to fight corruption was merely an innocent and well-meaning encouragement, rather than implicit pressure to investigate Trump’s Democratic enemies and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Pence's office roundly rejected Sondland's version of events. "The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations," Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Pence, said in a statement.
“This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened," Short added.
Pence in Trump’s orbit
Pence has spent his time in the Trump White House constantly attempting to stay above the president’s dramatic and frequent scandals, several sources near the Vice President’s staff have told VICE News. His calls with foreign leaders are highly scripted, in attempts to keep from making costly mistakes that could drag him into a scandal.
“He doesn’t allow himself to make mistakes,” one person close to Pence’s staff said of the Vice President’s approach to foreign policy. “He always has the national security folks in the room, the lawyers in the room.”
He’ll find those efforts to stay above the fray much harder now that Sondland has dragged him, explicitly, in bombshell new testimony, directly into Trump’s impeachment drama.
Cover: Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump speaks with Jessica Meir and Christina Koch as they conduct the first all-female spacewalk, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)