Don't Buy Mike Pence's Innocent Act

The official explanation for why Donald Trump asked Michael Flynn to resign (or merely accepted his resignation, depending on who's telling the story) is that Flynn lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about his conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which is why Pence then went on television to state with certitude: "They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia."

Flynn's lie to Pence, which caused Pence's very public "misstatement," is now being cited as the reason underwriting the "erosion of trust" that prompted Trump to ask for Flynn's resignation.

Central to this story is the idea that Pence only made that claim because he'd been misled by Flynn. Pence's alleged innocence has been bolstered by stories, the source for which is Pence's spokesperson, about how Pence only found out he'd been misled when he read it in the Washington Post on February 9, even though "Trump was first informed about the Justice Department's concerns regarding Flynn on Jan. 26."

Indeed, this wholesale buy-in to Pence's incredible claim of innocence is contingent on believing a number of extraordinary things.

1. That Pence was wildly out of the loop.

Pence has emerged as one of the most powerful veeps in the nation's history. He has been acting as the liaison between the White House and the Republican Congressional Caucus to begin enacting a radical conservative agenda, staring with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

On January 26, the very day that Trump was informed about Flynn, Pence was profiled by USA Today as leading the charge on domestic policy: "Pence tells Congress to 'buckle up' and get ready to enact major change."

That is, quite simply, not a vice-president who's been pushed out and left in the dark.

2. That Pence made a definitive statement about a vital national security concern based only on Flynn's word.

What we are meant to believe is that Pence went on national television and made a definitive statement about whether Flynn discussed sanctions with a Russian official, based exclusively on Flynn's word and nothing else.

Not only that does that seem like a very foolish move for a seasoned politician who has been through his share of controversies, but it also requires us to believe that, before speaking on such an explosive topic on behalf of the administration, he didn't discuss his talking points with anyone else in the administration, except for one person who had reason to lie.

I've been writing about Pence for many years, and I can tell you that there a lot of deplorable things about him, but being stupid and reckless are not among them.

3. That Flynn lied even though, according to the Trump administration, he had nothing to lie about.

During the White House press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer repeated over and over that Flynn's discussion about sanctions with Kislyak was not illegal. Flynn was asked for his resignation, Spicer insisted, not because he did anything wrong, but because of the "erosion of trust" after lying to Pence.

But: If Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on that call, then why would he lie about it to Pence in the first place? (The point is: Maybe he didn't.)

4. That Pence hasn't been reading the news for months.

For us to believe that Pence was truly "in the dark" and completely innocent of any knowledge that Flynn had misled him, we also have to believe that Pence hasn't read a shred of news for months. Until he happened to pick up the WaPo on Feb. 9.

Reports of Flynn's ties to Russia have also been circulating for months. We are also meant to believe that Pence has entirely missed reports that Flynn has a long relationship with Putin, including interviews (example) in which Flynn boasts about his ties to Russia.

Either we have to believe Pence missed all of that, or believe that Pence knew it yet inexplicably took Flynn at his word when he said he had not spoken to Kislyak about sanctions.

5. That Pence hasn't used precisely this maneuver before.

While Governor of Indiana, Pence used the old "had no knowledge" chestnut to distance himself from scandal. And it was just as absurd then as it is now.

Perhaps most famously, Pence claimed, exactly as he is now, that he learned from the press about the proposal for a state-run and taxpayer-funded news (propaganda) outlet: "I frankly learned about the memo from press reports late Monday."

He made this incredible claim despite the fact that two employees had already been hired; that "a governance board of communications directors" had been established; that a draft story had already been circulated; and that Pence himself had tweeted about it.

And he claimed that he learned about it from the media, just as he is claiming now.

This is his go-to move to try to disassociate himself from troubling stories that go public via leaks. He feigns ignorance, because it's preferable to look like he's out of the loop than intractably corrupt.

Don't believe him for a second. And urge the corporate media to give Pence the scrutiny he deserves, instead of letting him get away with the wide-eyed innocent routine. Again.

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