Specifically, before Pence did any of those things, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, repeatedly said he wanted Ukraine to investigate — i.e., fabricate smears against — Biden, on Trump’s behalf.
Trump himself said publicly that Biden’s activities in Ukraine merited scrutiny. News reports spelled out exactly what Giuliani and Trump wanted, in detail.
As The Post reports, Pence was involved in pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky twice. Trump instructed Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration in May. And Pence privately met with Zelensky in September, to tell him hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid would not be released, due to concerns about Ukrainian “corruption.”
Pence’s aides are claiming he was unaware of the pressure that Trump had been placing on Zelensky to manufacture dirt to smear Biden. The implication appears to be that Pence didn’t know about the private pressure that Trump was placing.
Similarly, Pence’s aides are also pushing back on The Post’s report that a top Pence aide was on the July 25 call in which Trump directly pressured Zelensky, by claiming that act never really got back to Pence. Again, the implication is that Pence didn’t know about that particular act of private pressure.
As implausible as all of that is, the more important point here is that it’s basically meaningless as pushback. It isn’t exonerating at all. That’s because Pence simply did know that Trump wanted Ukraine to interfere in the next U.S. election on his behalf.
We know this, because what Trump wanted from Zelensky was widely broadcast in the public domain all throughout. Thus, the real story is that Pence knew that he was playing a crucial part in Trump’s effort to secure that foreign interference on Trump’s behalf.
Here’s the timeline, with Pence’s pressure on the Ukrainian president in bold:
May 9: The New York Times publishes a big story about Giuliani’s plan to push Ukraine to investigate two matters: the origins of the special-counsel investigation finding Russia interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and the matter involving Biden.
That narrative, which holds that Biden pressured Ukraine to oust a prosecutor to protect his son Hunter, has been entirely debunked.
Giuliani is very clear in an interview with the Times about why he’s doing this, saying that this “information will be very, very helpful to my client.” There is almost no chance that Pence would not become aware of this, or know that it was being done with Trump’s blessing.
May 10: Giuliani tweets about this whole plan the next day, saying Biden should be “investigated” by Ukraine. (Again, that’s code for “smeared with lies.”)
May 19: Trump goes on Fox News and rails about Biden and Ukraine, falsely claiming that Biden improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was supposedly “after” his son.
May 20 or thereabouts: At the instruction of the White House, Pence cancels his planned trip to Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration.
June 21: Giuliani tweets an explicit demand that Zelensky ramp up the investigations into Biden.
July 18 or thereabouts: Trump orders the freeze on aid to Ukraine.
July 25: Trump directly pressures Zelensky, as an aide to Pence listens in.
Sept. 1: Pence meets with Zelensky to tell him the military aid isn’t coming, because of “corruption” in Ukraine.
Pressed on whether Pence was aware of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky as Pence met with him, officials close to Pence ended up claiming, again implausibly, that Pence may not have read the transcript of Trump’s call, or may not have registered what was important about it, even though his aide was on the call.
Pence’s aides are also now claiming that, when Pence told Zelensky the problem was that Ukraine needed to investigate “corruption,” he didn’t understand that this was code for smearing Biden.
But as Jonathan Chait points out, this is wildly implausible, because it’s overwhelmingly likely Pence already understood how this code worked — that the call for investigating “corruption” was cover for a demand to smear Biden. After all, it had been public for months that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden, and there’s no way Pence believes that Trump actually cares about “corruption.”
The bigger point here is that of course Pence perfectly understood the role of his own actions in this whole plot. It has been widely advertised all throughout, and Trump directed him to play his part in it.