Vice President Mike Pence firmly distanced himself from US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s testimony in a House impeachment hearing on Wednesday after Sondland testified that he discussed with Pence President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.
Sondland told lawmakers he spoke with Pence on September 1, ahead of a meeting the vice president had scheduled with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Poland.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in [US military aid to Ukraine] had become tied to the issue of investigations,” Sondland said. “I recall mentioning that before the Zelensky meeting.”
Ukrainians were also growing concerned that the aid — $391 million that Congress had approved for its fight with Russia — was being delayed, and Sondland has testified he outlined the steps they would need to take to unlock the funds on the same date he spoke with Pence.
An aide to Pence responded with a strongly worded statement denying any involvement in the scheme. “Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland,” the statement reads. “This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.”
Notable: The implication in the final paragraph is that there's something improper about the things Pence is denying. Trump did them all. https://t.co/N1f6F7BSem— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) November 20, 2019
The statement goes on to argue that multiple witnesses testified that Pence did not have any discussions mentioning “Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations” with Zelensky or any Ukrainians “before, during, or after the September 1 meeting.”
Pence has largely stayed out of the impeachment inquiry
Though Trump has directly engaged with the impeachment inquiry on an almost daily basis, Pence has largely avoided becoming involved with it. Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday could change that.
Whether Pence’s statement will be enough to let him keep his distance now that Sondland has claimed he had — at the very least — some knowledge of Trump’s desire for investigations is yet to be determined.
Sondland’s testimony has also raised questions about other officials. He told lawmakers “everyone was in the loop” about Trump’s requests of Ukraine, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias previously reported:
Sondland’s testimony also directly attributes key statements, actions, and knowledge of a quid pro quo between Ukraine and the Trump White House to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry (whose spokesperson also put out a statement contradicting Sondland), and former national security adviser John Bolton. But none of those men has testified before Congress. Neither has Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney nor Rudy Giuliani — the man who did most of the actual legwork on the caper that Congress is investigating.
So far, all of those men have either ignored congressional subpoenas or haven’t been called to testify. They — along with Pence — may now be of even greater interest to the House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry.
For his part, Trump also worked to distance himself from Sondland on Wednesday.
“I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy though,” Trump said of Sondland. “He was with other candidates. He actually supported other candidates. Not me. Came in late.”
TRUMP on Gordon Sondland, who he described as "a really good man and great American" last month and who gave $1 million to his inaugural: "I don't know him well. He was with other candidates ... not me. Came in late." pic.twitter.com/oy9TUbwPpf— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 20, 2019
Trump has tried many defenses to fight the testimony of witnesses in the impeachment hearings, but Pence has not had to do the same. The vice president’s statement seems designed to be a clear attempt to wash his hands of the entire Ukraine affair. Whether he’ll pull it off remains to be seen.