Mike Pence would very much like to be excluded from the Ukraine narrative.
The Vice President is contradicting sworn impeachment testimony from European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, who on Wednesday claimed he had raised concerns with Pence in September that U.S. military aid for Ukraine was being withheld, pending political investigations demanded by President Donald Trump. On a late July phone call, Trump had personally demanded a “favor” of president Volodymyr Zelensky: That Ukraine investigate the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory, alleging Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election, as well as vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
The disputed conversation with the Vice President is one of many bombshells included in Sondland’s testimony on the Ukraine quid-pro-quo, conditioning both a White House meeting with Zelensky and the release of $400 million in military aide to Ukraine on committing publicly to the investigations. The ambassador claims the scheme was directed by Trump, through his attorney Rudy Giuliani, with the knowledge of many top ranking officials in the administration, including Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. “Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified. “It was no secret.”
Referring specifically to the vice president’s knowledge of the quid pro quo, Sondland testified under oath about a September 1st meeting with new Ukrainian president Zelensky that Pence attended on Trump’s behalf. Sondland recalled: “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.” This sidebar conversation with the Vice President preceded Zelensky bringing up the topic officially: “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.”
Responding to Sondland’s allegation, Pence is strenuously disputing the sworn account. Pence chief of staff, Marc Short, released a statement insisting that the conversation between Pence and Sondland “never happened.”
“The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Bursima, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based on potential investigations,” Short insists. “Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland. The alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.”
Short claims that others involved in the events in question have substantiated that Pence did not participate in any quid pro quo. “Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Bursima or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelensky before, during, or after the September 1 meeting in Poland.”
The questions about what Pence knew and when did he know it were already ripe. The Vice President has portrayed himself as being as being at arms length from the quid quo pro scheme former National Security Adviser John Bolton derided as a “drug deal.” Sondland’s disputed testimony casts doubt on Pence’s claims to be in the dark, and increases the chances that the man first-in-line to succeed Trump may have to worry about his own political fate in a Senate impeachment trial.