Investigations into President-elect Donald Trump's relationship to Russia have barely begun, and already, it seems his vice president-elect is laying the groundwork to save his own skin.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence managed to talk without saying a whole lot during his interview with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace this week, but there was one response that stood out.
Wallace asked Pence the question that CNN’s Jim Acosta never got the chance to ask when Trump froze him out at his press conference, which is whether there was any contact between Trump and/or his associates, and the Russian government and/or intermediaries, as was alleged in an intelligence synopsis.
When pressed by Wallace, Pence eventually replied “of course not,” but not before qualifying his answer with a loophole large enough to fly Trump Force One through:
Wallace: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
Pence: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country.
Wallace: I’m just trying to get an answer.
Pence: Of course not. Why would there be any contact between the campaign…? Chris, this is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of his presidency.
This response accomplishes several things for Pence, things which a man confident in his boss’ innocence wouldn’t need to do. The first is that it shields Pence from anything that happened before he joined the Trump campaign in July, and the second is that it restricts his answer to that which he personally observed.
Finally, it restricts his answer to the period of the presidential campaign, which would exclude the post-election contacts between Michael Flynn and Russian officials.
It’s a carefully parsed, lawyerly response that ought to raise alarm bells with journalists and investigators looking into the matter. Pence will be next in line to the presidency in a few days, and so the care he is taking to insulate himself from Trump’s Russia issues is noteworthy.