As America waits for the redacted release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, a look back at Vice President Mike Pence’s role in various presidential scandals shows that he may be implicated too.
Attorney General Bill Barr’s language in his summary of the Mueller report regarding obstruction of justice was very vague and some readings of it suggest that although the special counsel chose not to prosecute the president for obstruction, there may well be evidence of it in the report.
Though Pence is often seen as the more-seasoned politician who sits above the fray of Trump’s chaos who will be there to reign should the president leave office, his role in the firing of former FBI James Comey shows he may not be as clean as his image suggests.
In September 2017, Vox’s Sean Illing noted that at the time, the most compelling evidence that Pence assisted Trump in obstructing justice came via reports claiming that the president read aloud a memo explaining that he fired Comey to shut down the Russia investigation — and that the VP was in the room when he read it.
Nonetheless, the VP told CNN the day after Comey was fired that he’d been terminated based on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the same talking point used by the White House to justify the firing.
Jed Shugerman, a Fordham Law professor, told Illing that “if Pence gave any feedback in revising the letter to cover up those intentions and to give disingenuous legal reasons for firing Comey, he is guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and aiding and abetting.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has also been a longtime proponent of the Pence-as-justice-obstructer theory — primarily because of his role in the saga of the disgraced Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.
As USA Today noted in a late 2017 timeline of Flynn and Pence’s relationship to the Russia investigation, the national security adviser cited incorrect information about his contacts with the Russian ambassador he gave to the vice president in his resignation.
Maddow has also repeatedly noted that Flynn’s lobbying work on behalf of Turkey — work that resulted in his indictment for failure to register as a foreign agent — could be another source of a Pence obstruction charge.
In May 2017, Pence gave an interview to Fox News’ Bret Baier in which he repeated twice that he’d never heard anything about Flynn’s work for Turkey — a claim the MSNBC host said is “impossible.”
“Mike Pence was the head of the [Trump] transition, while all of those news stories of Mike Flynn being on the Turkish government’s payroll were breaking,” Maddow said. “He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn was being vetted for the National Security Advisor job. He was the head of the transition when Congress formally notified the head of the transition that Mike Flynn appears to be on a foreign government’s payroll. He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn’s personal lawyers came and told the transition that Mike Flynn maybe needed to register as a foreign agent.”
As many of the legal experts Vox’s Illing spoke to for his September 2017 report noted, it was already unlikely that Mueller would charge Pence with obstruction of justice — and given that the special counsel brought no additional charges at the conclusion of his probe, that narrow avenue of is now moot.
Most of those experts agreed, however, that if prosecutors could prove that Pence knew about any potential Trump crimes and either agreed to take part it in or cover it up, he could be open to charges.