Mike Pence lets himself get played by Putin
The vice president extended yet another olive branch to Moscow just as Russia expelled hundreds of American diplomats.
Traveling to Eastern Europe to reassure allies about Donald Trump’s resolve to standing up to Russian aggression in the Baltic region, Vice President Mike Pence came across as suspiciously naive when he claimed he and Trump “expect” Russian behavior to change for the better.
Pence’s hopeful message was met nearly simultaneously with news the Russia government was kicking American diplomats out of the country.
“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities and support for rogue regimes and its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable,” Pence said while speaking in Estonia. “The president made it clear that very soon he will sign sanctions from the Congress to reinforce that.”
The sanctions Trump will soon sign are actually meant to punish Russia for its unprecedented interference in the U.S. election.
But Pence was quick to add, “At the same time as we make our intentions clear that we expect Russian behavior to change, the president and I remain very hopeful that we’ll see very different behavior from the Russian government.”
The problem? Fox News’ feel-good interview with Pence was posted on Twitter right before 2 p.m. on Sunday. Twenty minutes earlier, news broke that angry Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded the American diplomatic mission in Russia reduce its staff by 755 employees. Russia also seized two diplomatic compounds that belong to the U.S.
“Mr. Putin said the staff reduction was meant to cause real discomfort for Washington and its representatives in Moscow,” The New York Times reported.
Pence’s weirdly sympathetic “very hopeful” comments about Russia represent just the latest example of how the Trump administration can’t seem to stand up to Moscow.
The Times described the Trump team’s overall response to the mass explosion news as “muted,” while Michael McFaul, the ambassador to Russia under former President Barack Obama, commented on Twitter:
Could someone send me the statements of outrage from the WH or State about the Russian expulsion of our diplomats? Haven't seen yet.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 31, 2017
Trump himself continues to cast doubt on the idea that Russia actively interfered in last year’s election, including helping to steal private emails from the Democratic Party. That, despite the fact the U.S. intelligence community is unanimous in its agreement about Russia’s role.
Pence’s odd olive branch in the face of Russian explosions comes just weeks after news broke that very senior members of Trump’s campaign team in 2016, including Donald Trump Jr., met with Russian operatives who promised to deliver incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating allegations that the Trump team colluded with Russians last year to win the White House. He’s also investigating Trump finances, as well as possible obstruction of justice.