Pence undermines Mueller; Scarborough blasts Pence

Pence undermines Mueller; Scarborough blasts Pence
© Greg Nash

In a recent interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina The Democratic nominee won't be democratically chosen The Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada MORE called on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE to conclude his investigation of the Russian attack against the American election in 2016, which continues today, according to American intelligence leaders, with the Russian attack against the midterm elections this November.

After Pence’s aggressive attempt to undermine Mueller, Joe Scarborough, the host of Morning Joe on MSNBC, aggressively responded by comparing the behavior of Pence in 2018 to the behavior of Richard Nixon during the darkest days of the Watergate scandal. 

In February, I wrote here that urgent hearings are needed to expose Russian attacks that have begun to corrupt the 2018 midterm elections, which intelligence leaders now confirm is happening.  


Regarding these Russian attacks against American democracy that helped elect Trump in 2016 and now seeks to corrupt the midterm elections of 2018, Scarborough is right to ask about Pence: “What did he know, and when did he know it?”


Let's set the stage for the Pence attack against the investigation led by Mueller. While Pence, Trump and various GOP luminaries have long stated that Trump has cooperated with the Mueller investigation, this was never true. 

Trump and his GOP allies in Congress have long waged a concerted, aggressive and continuing war to attack the credibility of Mueller, the FBI and the Justice Department and to delay and stall the investigation.

As I wrote here Thursday, the consequence of this strategy to delay and destroy the investigation has been to merge the investigative aspects of the investigation into the politics of the midterm elections.  

For example, the chances that Trump will agree to be interviewed by Mueller are, in my view, zero. This matter should have been resolved months ago, but the continuing charade of negotiations between the Mueller and Trump camps has dragged on for months, bringing moments of truth about the investigation closer and closer to the midterms.

The attempt by Pence to short-circuit and derail the Mueller investigation results from a growing panic in Trump circles that the investigation poses an extreme threat to the GOP fate in the midterms, a threat heightened by the delay and destroy tactics they have employed against Mueller for months.

Scarborough is absolutely right to condemn the Pence move against Mueller. He is absolutely correct to state that whatever motive lies behind this attack is nefarious. He is absolutely fair to ask what Pence knew and when Pence knew it about the Russia-related matters under criminal investigation.  

While I have never suggested that Pence bears any guilt in the Russia scandal, and do not suggest this here, it is fair to ask what Pence knew about relationships between Trump associates and Russians attacking America from the time beginning with Pence’s leadership of the Trump transition team until today.

The most benign explanation for Pence’s attempt to undermine Mueller is that Pence is putting the interests of Republicans avoiding a disaster in the midterm elections ahead of the interests of Americans trying to defeat the Russian attack against our democracy. To this end, he seeks to shut down the Mueller investigation prematurely to prevent Americans from ever learning the full truth.

Whatever Pence’s motive, Scarborough’s comparison of his statements today and Nixon’s statements during the Watergate scandal are, factually and historically, absolutely right.

This seamy affair raises a second issue of profound importance, which is the tendency of Trump to insult and humiliate some who work for him, while others who work for him and some GOP allies in Congress act like shameless sycophants.

George F. Will, probably the most important conservative columnist since the time of William F. Buckley, wrote a brilliant column Thursday raking Pence over the coals for groveling before Trump. Will’s column included this:

“The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure.”

Many prominent Republicans and conservatives privately believe what Will wrote in this column, but publicly lack the courage to say it, which illustrates the crisis of principled conservatism that Scarborough and Will are addressing in different but equally principled ways.

As Scarborough suggests, all Americans should condemn the attempt by Pence to undermine the investigation of Mueller. With midterm elections approaching, and Russian attempts to corrupt those elections accelerating, it is disgraceful for Pence to be attacking or undermining Mueller while Mueller investigates Russia’s attack against America. 

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.