Vice President Mike Pence‘s hands-off response to the new scandal surrounding the president’s eldest son has stirred speculation that he’s laying political groundwork to step into the role of Commander in Chief.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Pence’s spokesman Marc Lotter said, “The vice president is working every day to advance the president’s agenda, which is what the American people sent us here to do.”
“The vice president was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket,” the statement concluded, according to The Hill.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, cohost Mika Brzezinski, a vocal critic of President Trump, translated the Pence camp’s statement as: “I had nothing to do with this and just in case I become president, I want you to know that.”
The vice president’s comment followed news that Donald Trump, Jr. had met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya during the 2016 campaign. Later reports from the New York Times, revealed that Trump Jr. met with Veselnitskaya because he was told she had, courtesy of the Russian government, compromising information about his father’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
On Tuesday, Trump Jr. released on Twitter the exchange of emails leading up to the meeting. The email chain showed that he was promised “very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for [President Donald Trump].”
The emails were sent in early June 2016. Pence – the former governor of Indiana – wasn’t added to the Republican ticket until July 2016.
Pence’s press secretary’s comment comes after the Times reported last week that the vice president has been wineing and dining influential Republican donors at the Naval Observatory. According to the Times, the dinners have thus far had a guest list of everyone from executives at Dow Chemical, and hedge fund managers.
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Even earlier this year, Pence became the first-ever sitting vice president to launch his own political action committee, NBC News reported at the time.
A source told NBC News that the focus of the PAC is not to serve as an infrastructure for a 2020 Pence run, but rather to “provide resources for the vice president to actually support candidates who are supportive of the president’s agenda.”
“Don’t read into 2020 as anything other than his running for re-election as vice president in 2020 and supporting other candidates,” the Pence insider told the outlet.
Still, many journalists and political pundits have speculated that Pence really is drumming up support for his own potential campaign.
Wrote the Washington Post‘s Sarah Posner, “We are not yet six months into Trump’s term, and each new revelation in the burgeoning Russia investigation seems to heighten the possibility that Trump could either no longer be president, or at least no longer be a viable reelection candidate, in 2020.”
“Pence is perhaps preparing for just that potentiality. If he were confident that the Russia investigation is ‘fake news’ or a ‘hoax,’ as Trump has maintained, he would be hewing to the traditional vice-presidential path,” Posner elaborated. “Instead, he’s making his own plans — which may show just how worried he is that the Russia investigation is going to come crashing down on his president.”
Pence – who served in the U.S. House for 12 years before becoming governor – has been floated by supporters as a possible presidential candidate in more than one election.
He even considered campaigning for the presidency in 2016 before ultimately announcing his decision to run for a second term as governor instead.
For his part, President Trump is standing by his son, calling the 39-year-old, “open, transparent and innocent.”
He tweeted, “This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”