Chris Matthews: Shouldn't Democrats be looking at impeaching Mike Pence too?

Chris Matthews: Shouldn't Democrats be looking at impeaching Mike Pence too?

Via Newsbusters, this is a fun gotcha to ask Senate Democrats because there’s an obvious answer to his question but it’s an answer Democrats can’t say out loud.

The answer is that no matter how dirty Pence’s hands turn out to be in this Ukraine mess, Democrats can’t make a move on him. Trump is already screaming about a “coup,” trying to turn Americans against the impeachment process; the rebuttal to that from the left is that if they were going to stage a coup, it sure as heck wouldn’t end with Mike Pence as president, which is what’ll happen if their impeachment effort succeeds. Start talking about *Pence* being impeached and removed too, though, and suddenly the “coup” argument becomes more tenable. Democrats are trying to get rid of both Republicans in order to make Nancy Pelosi president. Any small, tentative support Dems currently enjoy among moderate Republicans would go up in smoke if that perception took hold. And of course Senate Republicans would never, ever allow it. In some worst-case scenario where both Trump and Pence were impeached, they’d find a reason not to remove Pence in the name of maintaining Republican control of the White House.

But as I say, Democrats can’t say “It’s Trump we hate, it’s Trump we’re after, and so we’re giving Mike Pence a completely free pass for political reasons, to reassure Republican voters that they’ll still rule the executive branch.” Instead they’ll be forced to concoct excuses for the VP when the media coughs up stories like this:

[T]he president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time — following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Officials close to Pence insist that he was unaware of Trump’s efforts to press Zelensky for damaging information about Biden and his son, who had served on the board of an obscure Ukrainian gas company, when his father was overseeing U.S. policy on Ukraine.

Pence’s activities occurred amid several indications of the president’s hidden agenda. Among them were the abrupt removal of the U.S. ambassador to Kiev; the visible efforts by the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to insert himself in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship; as well as alarms being raised inside the White House even before the emergence of an extraordinary whistleblower complaint about Trump’s conduct.

Perhaps most significantly, one of Pence’s top advisers [national security advisor Keith Kellogg] was on the July 25 call and the vice president should have had access to the transcript within hours, officials said.

Trump had also told Pence earlier in the year not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration. And WaPo’s White House sources claim that Pence “probably” would have had the notes of Trump’s famous phone call with Zelensky in his briefing book when he traveled to Poland to meet the Ukrainian president in September. Between those notes and Kellogg’s personal awareness of what was said on the call (supposedly Kellogg didn’t see the call “as unusual or flag any concerns about it to the vice president”) and the inauguration cancellation and the mysterious hold-up in military aid and the other things mentioned in the excerpt, Democrats could argue that Pence should have realized — and probably did realize — what was going on when Trump sent him to Warsaw and had him press Zelensky on unspecified “corruption.” It was a pressure campaign, with a very particular result in mind.

But they’re not going to argue that. Maybe some of their 2020 candidates will try to drag Pence into it as a way of virtue-signaling to the left that they’re ready to impeach anyone and everyone in the Trump administration, but party leaders will seize any excuse available to ignore Pence’s role in this. “I can believe that Mike Pence was so disengaged from what his own government is doing that he failed to recognize what was going on under his nose.” Or “As much as I dislike Mike Pence, I think we need to focus on the mastermind here.” Or even some meritorious excuses — “We can’t be sure Pence was in on it since he never specifically mentioned Biden to Zelensky.” Or “I blame Keith Kellogg, who was on the call, instead of Pence for not bringing the call to Pence’s attention.”

Worst-case scenario for Pence here, realistically, is that the impeachment push somehow gains momentum and Democrats end up censuring him in the House. Imagine how annoyed Pelosi must be, though, to see the friendly confines of MSNBC raising this uncomfortable question for her at a moment when she’s trying to convince the public that Trump — and only Trump — must go.

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