- Pence said he was "aware" of a bipartisan bill moving through Congress to sanction Russia
- He stressed that Trump "is determined to try and improve" US-Russian relations
In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Pence said simply that he was "aware" of a bipartisan bill moving through Congress designed to impose additional sanctions against Russia. He also refused to answer whether the country's influence campaign in 2016 should be met with "American strength," as he suggested Russian provocations should be met during the vice presidential debate last year.
Instead, Pence stressed that President-elect Donald Trump has "made it very clear that he is determined to try and improve" US-Russian relations, and that Trump plans to "reach out with a hand of friendship to all nations of the world."
"That's not to ignore the information and evidence ... that we have. That's not to ignore the evidence that we have of Russian involvement in hacking last fall. But it's just his determination to come in, recognizing that we have a terrible relationship with Russia right now and to explore the possibility of improving that relationship," Pence said.
Asked whether the incoming administration needed to punish Russia's hacking to ward off similar moves from other countries, Pence demurred. Instead he knocked President Barack Obama's administration for its failed reset with Russia and for not abiding by the red line Obama set with regards to the Syrian conflict.
Pence said those moves "eroded the respect for our country" and stressed that other countries will "see America's strength in the Oval Office" with Trump in office.
Trump will make clear that "America's interests come first," Pence said.
Trump has yet to say whether he plans to keep in place the sanctions the Obama administration imposed to punish Russia over its hacking of Democratic groups to influence the presidential election.
For weeks, Trump cast doubt on the intelligence community's conclusions that Russia orchestrated the hacking effort and a broader influence campaign aimed at hurting his rival Hillary Clinton and bolstering his own chances in the election. He finally acknowledged Russia's responsibility in the matter at a news conference last week.
Pence for his part said in the 2016 vice presidential debate that "provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength" in relation to the Syrian conflict. Trump subsequently said at the next presidential debate that he disagreed with that view.