"The vice president stands by his comments in March," an aide said
The question of what Pence knew and when first arose months earlier
Vice President Mike Pence is standing by a March statement that he first learned of now-fired national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Turkey from media reports, despite renewed scrutiny and revelations President Donald Trump’s transition team was made aware far earlier.
“The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the President’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation,” said an aide to Pence, who declined to be named.
But questions about what Pence knew and when are swirling thanks to new media reports about what Flynn revealed to Trump’s transition team, which Pence oversaw.
Flynn informed the Trump transition team more than two weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for his work as a lobbyist advocating for Turkish government interests, The New York Times reported Wednesday. But Pence didn’t know, according to a senior administration official close to Pence.
Despite reportedly informing the transition’s chief lawyer Donald McGahn, now White House counsel, of the investigation’s existence, Flynn still walked into the West Wing on January 20 as the President’s top adviser on national security issues.
Question surfaced months ago
The question of what Pence knew and when first arose months earlier after reports surfaced that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington despite Pence’s public claim to the contrary. It’s also one that was posed after Pence stood before news cameras and claimed that Trump had fired FBI director James Comey because of a memo written by the deputy attorney general – only for Trump to later reveal he planned to fire Comey regardless.
A senior administration official rebuffed CNN’s question about whether or not Pence knew of the investigation into Flynn during the transition with a simple, “No.”
But Pence should have known. Days after the election, Pence took over from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as chairman of the transition.
In that role, Pence oversaw the transition’s work to build out the future Trump administration and quickly booted several of the Christie-aligned transition officials who had been working to fill out a potential administration before Trump was elected.
He was firmly in charge, yet it’s not the first time Pence has claimed to have been unaware of crucial information that surfaced during the transition period.
Pence claimed in a March interview with Fox News that it was the “first I’d heard of” Flynn earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for a Turkish businessman, which ultimately prompted Flynn to register as a foreign agent.
But Flynn’s pro-Turkey lobbying work had been in the news for months before that March interview.
Pence had also received a letter in November from the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings describing Flynn’s foreign work.
In a November 18 letter to Pence “to raise questions about the apparent conflicts of interest of the Vice Chairman of the Presidential Transition Team, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn,” Cummings described Flynn’s lobbying work and public advocacy aimed at benefiting the Turkish government as well as Flynn’s RT-funded speech in Moscow in December 2015.
Despite that lapse, Pence eventually played a central role in Flynn’s firing.
As news broke in February that Flynn had discussed sanctions imposed on Russia with the country’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration, Pence was caught in the crosshairs.
The then-vice president-elect had claimed in an interview that Flynn never discussed sanctions with Kislyak – explaining that Flynn had personally assured him of that.
After asking for Flynn’s resignation, Trump explained that he forced his national security adviser out not over his discussions with Kislyak, but because he had not been truthful with Pence.
Flynn has continued to loyally defend Trump and stick to the administration’s script, as best he can.
While he didn’t specifically reference recent controversies plaguing the White House during a speech to the Chamber of Commerce, Pence assured Trump’s supporters that Trump would tackle “the issues that matter most to the American people.”
“Whatever Washington, DC, may be focused on at any given time, rest assured, President Donald Trump will never stop fighting for the issues that matter most to the American people: good jobs, safe streets, and a boundless American future,” Pence said.
Trump, meanwhile, was angrily tweeting – and not about jobs.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump said of the investigation swirling around his presidency.
CNN’s Dana Bash and Elizabeth Landers contributed to this report.