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Mike Pence: Trump Is ‘Still Wrong’
Plus: Zelensky corrects Trump, too.
Hi, this is Will. Charlie’s out this week, so I’m grabbing my chance to take over his newsletter for the day and—ssssssh, don’t tell him—say something nice about Mike Pence.
Non-deplorable of the week
Often, Mike Pence is—how do I say this politely—a complete weasel. Last month, for instance, he said Donald Trump’s indictment for obstructing recovery of classified documents showed that “those of us in the Trump-Pence administration” were victims of a “two-tiered justice system.”
LOL. Pence had just received a letter from the Department of Justice informing that he wouldn’t be prosecuted for mishandling classified documents at his home, since—unlike Trump—he had handed over the documents when he became aware of them. So Pence knew his allegations of bias against “the Trump-Pence administration” were garbage.
But credit Pence for this much: On January 6th, he rebuffed Trump’s pressure to halt the counting of electoral votes. What Pence did wasn’t heroic, but it was crucial.
And that leads us to what happened last Wednesday: During a campaign stop at a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, Pence was rebuked by a woman who insisted that Trump had won the 2020 election and that Pence should have blocked the electoral count. “That was a constitutional right that you had to send those votes back to the states,” she told him.
Pence held his ground. He told the woman that she and Trump were wrong. And—if I may be permitted one pony for today—he did it in a way that bodes well for the future of our country.
Here’s the video, via C-SPAN:
If I’d been in Pence’s shoes, I probably would have lost my cool and ticked off the people in that room. But Pence answered with grace. He assured his listeners that he was one of them. “Let me be very respectful of the question,” he said. As he went on, he added: “I say this with great affection and respect.” He concluded: “I say to my friends in the room, and we’re friends all: We are all on the same team, as near as I can tell.”
But on the substance of the question, Pence didn’t flinch. “I said when I announced, President Trump was wrong about my authority that day. And he’s still wrong.”
In explaining why Trump was wrong, Pence conveyed several principles about how to think through the question.
1. Follow the evidence. Pence noted that the election results had gone through two kinds of scrutiny: court cases and recounts conducted by state officials. “We had reviews of the results, sixty different lawsuits that went to the courts,” he recalled. And none of those lawsuits or recounts had produced sufficient evidence to change the outcome in any state.
2. Respect judicial rulings. Pence acknowledged one of the GOP’s favorite talking points: that several states had changed their voting procedures in 2020 due to COVID. “But the courts upheld those changes in virtually every instance,” Pence added, “and in every instance where they would have had any impact whatsoever.”
3. Stick to the text of the Constitution. “The Constitution . . . says the job of the vice president is to serve as the presiding officer of a joint session where you open and count the [electoral] votes,” Pence observed. “The Constitution says you open and count the votes: no more, no less. The Constitution affords no authority for the vice president or anyone else to reject votes or return votes to the states.” When the questioner bristled at his answer, Pence responded: “I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s actually what the Constitution says.”
4. Be wary of centralized power. “States conduct our elections,” Pence reminded the audience. “You never want to let Washington, D.C. run elections. You certainly would never want one person in Washington, D.C. to decide who the president of the United States is going to be.”
5. Obey the rules, even when they cost you victory. “I’m going to stand on the Constitution,” said Pence. “And any job I ever have in the future, I promise you, I’ll keep my oath, even when it hurts, like it says in Psalm 15.”
These five principles are hugely important. They don’t just explain why Pence was right on January 6th. They’re the foundations of a sane, open society. If citizens from different political camps can agree to respect evidence, courts, and the Constitution—and if we’re willing to follow rules, even when they hurt—we can preserve our democracy.
Those of us at The Bulwark have been saying this for years. But most of today’s Republican voters—the people in that restaurant—won’t listen to us. They did listen to Pence, however. In the video, you can see and hear many of them clapping.
So, good for you, Mike. For four years, you served a president who deceived and corrupted Republican voters. You can atone by doing your part to straighten them out.
Trump Tried to Pull a Nixon
You’re not going to believe this, but the former president who falsely accuses Joe Biden of “weaponizing” the government against his political enemies . . . tried to weaponize the government against his political enemies.
Anyone who has read Trump’s social media posts in the past eight years knows that he often calls for DOJ, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies to investigate his political opponents. But now we have written confirmation, from his former chief of staff, that Trump privately sought such investigations, specifically through the IRS.
In a sworn statement revealed on Friday, John Kelly wrote that Trump “questioned whether investigations by the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agencies should be undertaken” against former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Kelly wrote that “it appeared” that Trump “wanted to see Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page investigated.”
Kelly’s statement matches what he told the New York Times last fall: that Trump had privately said “we ought to investigate” and “get the I.R.S. on” (or in some cases get DOJ to investigate) Strzok, Page, former FBI Director James Comey, former acting director Andrew McCabe, former CIA director John Brennan, Hillary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos.
As the Times points out, it’s illegal for a presidential to request an IRS investigation of anyone.
Last fall, when Kelly acknowledged Trump’s corrupt discussions about the IRS, Trump’s spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, called the allegations “total fiction created by a psycho, John Kelly, who never said this before, and made it up just because he’s become so irrelevant.”
Unfortunately for Trump and Harrington, Kelly had saved his handwritten notes from February 21, 2018, which documented Trump’s comments. Those notes accompany Kelly’s sworn statement.
Just in case you weren’t clear as to who’s telling the truth and who makes things up.
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Zelensky Corrects Trump
Every sensible person knows Trump is lying when he says he’d solve the Ukraine war in 24 hours. But that’s not the only lie he tells about the war. He also claims that Russia didn’t attack Ukraine during his presidency.
Fact check: Russia waged a not-so-proxy war in eastern Ukraine throughout Trump’s tenure.
Hawks in Trump’s administration did what they could to help Ukraine. But Trump showed little interest. He certainly didn’t end the fighting. In fact, in a failed attempt to extract a political favor from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump temporarily withheld military aid from Ukraine.
Zelensky didn’t publicly complain about Trump’s coercion. But in an ABC News interview that aired this weekend, the Ukrainian president observed that Trump had way more than 24 hours to solve the war in eastern Ukraine, if he had cared to:
Now that Zelensky has pointed out his lie, Trump will surely try to punish Ukraine. Another reason to make sure Putin’s favorite president never returns to power.
1. The Right-Wing Lawsuit That’s Forced the Feds to Stop Talking to Social Media Firms
The ruling temporarily prohibits the government personnel—specifically naming several White House staffers, the CDC, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and a slew of other federal agencies, officials, and employees—from even speaking to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies about misinformation online. This is a big legal deal.
Wehle spells out five big legal flaws in the reasoning behind the injunction.
2. Ukraine Gets the Weapons It Needs, But Always Too Late
And to be sure, it is a choice: At this point in the war, the courage, creativity, and competence of the Ukrainian war effort has been demonstrated beyond question. Questions about troop training and logistics were valid, but the Ukrainian military has answered them. It has used the tools at its service with both patience and panache. The case of the AMX-10s shows both their willingness to assume risk and their ability to recognize when the risk is too great.
3. The GOP T-Shirt Crackdown of 2023
Oh, look, it’s the party of free enterprise and limited government, threatening to prosecute a company for selling merchandise that expresses gay pride. From CNN:
Republican attorneys general from seven states signed a letter Wednesday to Target, warning clothes and merchandise sold as part of the retail giant’s Pride month campaigns could violate their state’s child protection laws.
GOP attorneys general from Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina signed the letter, writing they were “concerned by recent events involving the company’s ‘Pride’ campaign.” . . . The AGs said they believed the campaign was a “comprehensive effort to promote gender and sexual identity among children,” criticizing items such as “LGBT-themed onesies, bibs, and overalls, T-shirts labeled ‘Girls Gays Theys’; ‘Pride Adult Drag Queen Katya’ (which depicts a male dressed in female drag’); and girls’ swimsuits with ‘tuck-friendly construction.’”
4. China’s Influence Operations in the U.S. Demand Closer Scrutiny
Imagining that CCP leaders shared Washington’s vision for a China integrated into a world order led by democracies, American leaders have encouraged not only trade and investment but also participation in activities they may have thought would transform Chinese communism. These assumptions have proved dangerously wrong as Chinese Communist leaders pursued their own objectives.
Just when you thought the Michigan Republican Party couldn’t sink any lower than its ongoing denial about the 2020 election . . . an internal brawl has broken out. Literally. Details here, via the Detroit News and other outlets.
“He kicked me in my balls,” says one participant in the melee. Nuts.