BY JULIA GLUM ON 7/13/17 AT 10:09 AM
Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort joined an ever-expanding club this week of people who met with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign but who claimed they did not when news broke that the trio met with a Russian lawyer last year in hopes of digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton. But for now, Vice President Mike Pence is keeping Americans in the dark as to whether he’s a member.
Pence spokesman Marc Lott repeatedly refused to answer questions on the subject Wednesday in an interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer. Hemmer bluntly asked Lott three times whether the vice president had ever met with Russian representatives, and each time he dodged the subject.
At first, Lott insisted Pence was “not focused on the areas where, you know, on this campaign, especially things that happened before he was even on the ticket,” referring to the fact that Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting took place June 9 and Pence didn’t join the campaign until July 15. When Hemmer next pressed him, Lott said “that stuff, the special prosecutors and the counsels are all looking at.”
Hemmer then demanded a yes-or-no answer.
“I’m not aware of anything that I have seen,” Lott responded. “All the focus that I saw with Vice President Pence during the campaign and since then has been focused on working the agenda that the people sent him to Washington to accomplish.”
Lott’s non-answer answers were circulating Thursday morning on Twitter, where they caught the attention journalists including CNN’s Jim Acosta and the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin. Many brought up the fact that Pence said flatly in January that “of course” the Trump campaign did not have any contact with Kremlin officials who meddled in the U.S. election, dismissing reports to the contrary as “bizarre rumors.”
“Isn’t it telling that now even Mike Pence’s people will not say he did not meet with Russians, after Mike Pence in January said, ‘Of course, we never met with Russians, we were meeting with the American people’?” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said on his show Thursday.
People have been watching Pence this week in the wake of the Trump Jr. scandal because the vice president is next in the line of succession should Donald Trump Sr. be impeached (it’s unlikely, but that’s a whole other story).
In a statement released Tuesday, Pence seemed to put space between himself and the campaign, saying he wasn’t aware of the June 9 meeting and was unconcerned with stories about Trump aides from before he joined the ticket. But officials and sources close to Pence have fought back, saying he wasn’t trying to separate himself from Trump Sr.
“There’s absolutely no distance between the president and the vice president,” deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know if they’ve spoken directly about this, but I know they’ve spoken today.”