Vice President Mike Pence might have the most to gain from a premature end to Donald Trump’s presidency, but in an interview aired Sunday, he forcefully denied engaging in any discussion about invoking the 25th Amendment to eject Trump from office.
The vice president, who made appearances on two major Sunday news-talk shows, also delivered a sweeping condemnation of Watergate journalist Bob Woodward’s depiction of a capricious and incurious president, and again denied authorship of a stinging anonymous op-ed published last week in the New York Times that describes high-level officials discussing removing Trump.
Pence said he was willing to take a lie-detector test to back up his denial of personal authorship of the critique, but said he had not asked his staff whether any of them had penned the anonymous critique because he fully trusted none had done so.
Trump has vowed to root out the op-ed writer, described by the New York Times as a senior administration official whose identity the paper knows.
The president has urged the Justice Department to ferret out the official’s identity, prompting a new wave of criticism over Trump’s seeming belief that he may utilize federal law enforcement as an instrument of political reward and retribution.
A never-invoked section of the 25th Amendment provides for a sitting president’s removal if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet secretaries pronounce him or her unfit to discharge the duties of office. The anonymous op-ed describes Cabinet-level officials talking about the possibility — discussions that would conceivably have been brought to Pence’s attention, since he would be both a prime mover and beneficiary of any such scenario.
In an interview aired on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pence replied “no, never,” when asked if he had taken part in any such talks, before swiftly pivoting to the administration’s accomplishments.
In the same interview, Pence said he did not ask his staff explicitly whether they had written the op-ed, saying, “I know them. I know their character.”
Separately, on “Fox News Sunday,” the vice president said if he was asked, he would submit “in a heartbeat” to a polygraph concerning his denial of authorship. He also defended the White House hunt for the anonymous official and Trump’s depiction of the writing of the op-ed as a criminal act, saying the piece’s author was “violating an oath, not to the president, but to the Constitution.”
He didn’t specify what portion of the Constitution would have been violated, but said, “We’ll find out if there was criminal activity involved.”
With Trump having clearly expressed his ire over the anonymous op-ed, White House staffers toggled between playing down the significance of the criticism and denouncing the author.
Senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked whether she could offer a justification for the president’s demand for a Department of Justice investigation.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she was asked what law had been broken. “It depends,” she replied. “There could be, and there could not be. You don’t know that and I don’t know that.”
In a separate interview, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” she said she believed the person’s identity would emerge because the author “is going to suss himself or herself out.”
Democrats expressed frustration that Trump again appeared to be stepping far outside the bounds of what would be considered appropriate requests for a president to make of the Justice Department.
Last week, Trump drew criticism when he suggested that the department should not have indicted two Republican congressmen — one of them Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) — because it could hurt GOP prospects in the midterms.
“Does this president not understand that the Justice Department is not a tool of his own personal power?” asked Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) in an interview on CNN.
On CBS, Pence rejected Woodward’s portrait of an inept and erratic president. The book “Fear: Trump in the White House” will be in stores this week, but excerpts have been widely reported.
“These accounts are very foreign to me,” Pence said, instead portraying Trump as a laudably tough-minded boss who “wants things yesterday.”
But Woodward’s depiction rang true even for some in Trump’s party, including Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a frequent Trump critic who nonetheless has consistently voted in support of the president’s policies.
Sasse said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there is “way too much drama every day” in the White House, saying Trump’s tenure was a “reality-show, soap-opera presidency.”
Woodward, interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning,” defended his sourcing and reporting methods, saying the public needed to “wake up” to the perils of Trump’s leadership style.
“You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say, ‘Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis,’” the journalist-author said.
Trump, spending a rainy Sunday at the White House, sent a stream of acerbic tweets denigrating his predecessor, President Obama, who had begun campaigning for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, and his defeated rival Hillary Clinton.
He also derided National Football League ratings, blaming “take a knee” protests; hailed the state of the economy; defended his trade tariffs; and cited Fox News, his favorite outlet, as saying North Korea is committed to full denuclearization. Regional and nuclear experts have cast doubt on that claim.
As the Woodward book and the op-ed pile new pressures on Trump, the Russia investigation being carried out by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III remains a constant theme. On CBS, Pence was asked whether he would be willing to sit for a face-to-face interview with Mueller.
Woodward’s book described a devastating interview practice run by Trump’s attorneys in which the president obfuscated, contradicted himself and eventually lost his temper.
Pence said Mueller’s team hadn’t requested an interview, but said he would be willing to do a sit-down if asked.
“I would,” he said on “Face the Nation,” adding that he would be “more than willing to provide any and all support in that.”