This story has been updated with a statement from the vice president’s press secretary.
President Trump and his administration are beset by controversies and scandals that refuse to go away. His list of critics is growing. Some of his allies are abandoning him. Others are calling for his impeachment. Even former White House chief strategist and Trump whisperer Stephen K. Bannon has, according to Vanity Fair, told people he thinks Trump has a mere 30 percent chance of completing his term.
With all that on the table, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer took a deep look at the political and financial forces behind Vice President Pence, the man who would succeed Trump in the event of his ouster. In a profile published Monday, titled “The Danger of President Pence,” Mayer reported on the outsize influence the vice president and his network of megadonors — particularly the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers — have had on Trump’s agenda since Pence became his running mate.
The story contains a number of revelations culled from on-the-record interviews with Bannon and others in Trump’s orbit, as well as from unnamed officials who offered insights into the relationship between Trump and Pence.
The vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, denounced the piece in a statement. “Articles like this are why the American people have lost so much faith in the press,” Farah said. “The New Yorker piece is filled with unsubstantiated, unsourced claims that are untrue and offensive.”
Here are three highlights from Mayer’s reporting.
Trump has mocked Pence’s religious beliefs — and once joked that Pence wanted to ‘hang’ gay people.
Pence is an evangelical Christian who has fiercely campaigned against LGBT rights and abortion. He hosts a Bible study group at the White House. He abides by the so-called Billy Graham rule, refusing to dine alone with another woman or attend an event where alcohol is served unless his wife is with him.
Trump has on more than one occasion mocked the vice president’s religiosity and his socially conservative views, according to Mayer’s story. Citing anonymous sources, she describes a meeting where Trump ribbed Pence for trying to outlaw abortion and joked that Pence wanted to “hang” gay people:
Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
Mayer also writes that Trump would ask White House visitors derisively, “Did Mike make you pray?” Quoting Bannon, the story suggests it was Trump’s way of letting “Pence know who’s boss.”
Chris Christie warned the president about Michael Flynn. Pence was silent — and it may have hurt the White House.
Before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was unceremoniously replaced by Pence as head of Trump’s transition team, Christie warned Trump not to give a top administration job to retired general Michael Flynn, saying he was too risky, according to the New Yorker story.
Mayer describes a tense standoff between Christie and Ivanka Trump during a Nov. 11 transition meeting. The president’s daughter had unexpectedly invited Flynn and one of his allies to the meeting, and Christie seemed irked:
“Gentlemen, can I help you?” Christie asked. Ivanka Trump, who was a member of the transition team’s executive council, announced that she had invited them. Christie tried to reclaim control of the meeting, but Ivanka took over. Praising Flynn’s “amazing loyalty to my father,” she turned to him and asked, “General, what job do you want?” A participant at the meeting said, “It was like Princess Ivanka had laid the sword on Flynn’s shoulders and said, ‘Rise and go forth.’”
Within hours, Christie was dismissed. When Pence replaced him, Mayer writes, “the door of the White House was opened to Flynn,” who was named national security adviser days later. Pence seems not to have objected to Flynn taking the highly sensitive position, even after Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) wrote him a letter describing how Flynn had failed to disclose his lobbying work on behalf of Turkish interests, according to the story.
Mayer notes that it probably would have hurt Pence to challenge Trump and his family members on Flynn. But what if Pence had stopped him? Mayer says Trump might not be facing a massive special counsel investigation if that were the case.
In February, after less than a month on the job, Flynn admitted that he misled Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. He was fired on Feb. 13. A few months later, as the probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was widening, Trump fired James B. Comey, the FBI director who launched the investigation.
Bannon worries about a Pence presidency: ‘I’m concerned he’d be a President that the Kochs would own.’
Mayer’s story contains a few head-turning quotes from Bannon, who returned to his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News after being dismissed by Trump in August. The most explosive came in a section about Pence’s deep connection to the Koch brothers, who are known for pouring billions of dollars into conservative causes and political campaigns. Mayer reports that Pence’s relationship with the Koch-funded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity and other conservative organizations played a key role in his political trajectory.
Bannon told Mayer he was alarmed about Pence replacing Trump in the Oval Office. “I’m concerned he’d be a President that the Kochs would own,” he is quoted as saying. Others gave Mayer similar assessments, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who argued that if Pence became president “the government would be run by the Koch brothers — period.”
Bannon also discussed how Pence helped Trump bring together Bannon’s nationalist faction and the conservative wing of the Republican establishment. Mayer goes on to note that once Pence came on board, some of the Kochs’ fellow billionaires began to throw their weight behind Trump. Pence is “the outreach guy, the connective tissue,” Bannon said. “Without Pence, you don’t win.”
More from Morning Mix: