A bombshell newspaper essay which detailed efforts to sideline Donald Trump from government was “just an obvious attempt to distract attention from this booming economy and [the president’s] record of success”, Vice-President Mike Pence has said.
Speaking to CBS’s Face the Nation in an interview for broadcast on Sunday, Pence also denied that White House officials discussed invoking the 25th amendment and removing Trump from power.
The comment piece was published by the New York Times on Wednesday, under the title I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration and attributed to a mystery “senior official”.
It came a day after the Washington Post detailed veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s reporting in a new book that Trump aides regularly disobeyed orders or removed papers from the president’s desk.
Though the author of the New York Times article said there had been discussion of removing the “amoral … impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” Trump from power, he or she also drew attention to administration achievements – Republican goals including “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more”.
The “adults in the room” had achieved this while working around the president’s “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless” decisions, the author said.
Amid criticism and denials and a gleeful Washington whodunnit – and with suspicion falling on Pence himself, given the use of “lodestar”, a word common in his public remarks – the vice-president told CBS he “wouldn’t know” who wrote the piece.
“But what I can say,” he said, “it’s a disgrace. I think the author … and frankly the New York Times should be ashamed.”
CBS said that after the interview, Pence asked for cameras to be switched back on, so he could make a clarification.
Interviewer Margaret Brennan asked: “Mr Vice-President. I asked you earlier if anyone on your staff wrote this op-ed. Have you asked your staff?”
“Oh well,” Pence replied. “I … I thought you were speaking about the administration staff. Let me be very clear, I’m 100% confident that no one on the vice-president’s staff was involved in this anonymous editorial.
“I … I know my people, Margaret. They get up every day and are dedicated, just as much as I am, to advancing the president’s agenda and supporting everything the President Trump is doing for the people of this country.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Pence repeatedly praised Trump’s leadership, saying: “I’ve seen this president in action. Is he demanding? Yes. Is he a strong leader who expects things done yesterday? Yes.”
Asked in the supplementary questioning if he had asked his own staff about the editorial, Pence said: “Well you know, honestly, I don’t have to ask them because I know them. I know their character. I know their dedication and I am absolutely confident that no one on the vice-president’s staff had anything to do with this.”
He then added: “But that being said, you know, who… whoever this was they should do the honourable thing and resign.”
The 25th amendment provides for the removal of a president on grounds of inability “to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. It must be invoked by the vice-president and members of the cabinet. Asked if the process had been discussed, Pence said: “No. Never. And why would we?”
In his book, Fear, a copy of which the Guardian obtained, Woodward quotes then Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as saying in October 2016 Pence was “prepared to step up”, with former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice “as his VP”, when Trump faced the Access Hollywood tape scandal.
In his CBS interview, Pence chose not to dwell on tantalising what-ifs. Instead, he attacked the work of a veteran and Pulitzer-winning reporter who with Carl Bernstein did much to bring down Richard Nixon nearly 50 years ago.
“The only thing that’s wrong about [Woodward’s] narrative,” he said, “is everything. Because it shows … a complete misunderstanding of how this White House works.”
In a note in Fear, Woodward writes that the book “is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses to these events”. Much of the book is written with direct quotes. In an opening chapter already become famous, Woodward describes then senior economic adviser Gary Cohn removing from Trump’s desk in the Oval Office a letter meant to withdraw the US from a trade agreement with South Korea.
“I stole it off his desk,” Woodward quotes Cohn as telling an associate. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see the document. Got to protect the country.”
Pence said: “What that suggests, and… and what I get from other examples and narratives is, is that… that… that people are managing the president, when in fact what happens in the White House every day … is the president invites opinions. He tends to put people around the resolute desk in the Oval Office who have diverse views. And… and… and he invites a vigorous debate.”
Pence also attacked Trump’s immediate predecessor. Since Friday, Barack Obama has delivered two explicitly political speeches, criticizing the president and aiming to fire up Democrats for the midterm elections.
The “truth of the matter”, Pence said, “is over the last eight years, despite what we heard from President Obama on Friday, I mean this country was struggling.”
Pence also spoke to Fox News Sunday. He told that show the anonymous op ed was “really an assault on our democracy”, because “every senior official in any administration takes an oath to the constitution”, and defended Trump’s call for the Department of Justice to investigate the piece.
He also took aim at Obama again. “It was very disappointing,” Pence said, “to see Obama break with the tradition of former presidents and become so political and roll out the same tired arguments that he and liberals have made over the last eight years.”
Source: The Guardian