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The Russian test proves Pence in the dark defense

But court appearances revealed last week, along with new details about President Donald Trump's knowledge of the events, indicate that a wide circle of advisers knew that Flynn raised the issue when he spoke by telephone with the Moscow envoy, even according to Pence. Robert Mueller's new research points to what could be a pivotal moment in Pence's careful calibration of trying to keep a safe distance from the Russian probe, while maintaining his credibility for being left out of the investigation. the tie by the west wing.

Pence, who was in charge of Trump's transition, knew that Flynn had contacted Russia, but had not heard about the sanctions discussion, according to transitional officials. Anxiety was generated in Pence's circle that will eventually be called for an interview with Mueller.

"They are preparing for that," said one person in Pence's orbit, a sentiment echoed by another source close to vice. President: "Presiding over the transition would make it possible regardless of who it was".

Pence's spokeswoman rejected the idea that her office is preparing for a possible interview.

"Nothing could be further from the truth, the president focuses on approving the largest tax reduction in US history," Pence's press secretary Alyssa Farah told CNN on Tuesday.

Legislators also say that Pence owes them answers about what he knew at the time.

"I think he has new questions to answer," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, who said he wanted Pence to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain what he knew at the time about Flynn's conversations with Russian officials.

days since F Last week the lynn's guilty plea was released, seven people close to the vice president continue to argue that Pence did not know that Flynn spoke with Kislyak about Russian sanctions, despite being the head of the transition of Trump.

But among the top transitional officers, Pence would have been mostly alone in his lack of knowledge. According to court documents released last week, Flynn spoke with "senior members of the Presidential Transition Team" about his conversations with Kislyak about new US sanctions.

And the White House's own chief lawyer told Trump in January that he cheated on the FBI and lied to Pence about his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn was fired on February 13.

Political Chops

  Pence: I was disappointed & # 39; with Flynn

An establishment Republican who served for 10 years as a representative of the United States before serving as governor of Indiana, Pence is one of the most politically experienced members of the Trump administration, and has assumed a large part of responsibility, including maintaining relationships on Capitol Hill and making frequent trips abroad.

But despite his political acumen, or perhaps because of it, Pence has remained largely oblivious to contacts between Trump officials and Russian agents, at least according to his collaborators.

In addition to the Flynn episode, Pence's aides said he did not know that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have condemnatory information about Hillary Clinton. And his office also said that Pence was not aware of Trump Jr.'s contact with WikiLeaks in the last days of last year's presidential campaign. The president's son will meet with congressional investigators on Wednesday.

In multiple conversations with CNN, officials tried to explain Pence's role in the transition, his reaction to the news that Flynn had lied to him and why he was not aware of Flynn's actions.

A former senior transition official explained that Pence was primarily concerned with "human resources" and the staff in his role as transitional president, which included oversight of important cabinet appointments. Another adviser to the vice president said he was focused on interviewing candidates for confirmed positions in the Senate.

Two senior transitional officials told CNN that Pence was slowly removed from email during the transition period, one more step to prepare him for his new role as vice president. One of the officers says that Pence's team actively tried to protect him from the various characters of the Trump Tower and the transition offices during that period of time.

"We definitely tried to reduce the unrestricted access that people had for him but it was more about allowing him to concentrate on the task at hand," said this official.

Transitional roles

During the multiple days of last December when Flynn was talking to Kislyak, Pence was thousands of miles away, according to his travel records and a senior transitional officer in That moment, he was leading transition meetings in Washington and getting ready for his son's wedding in Indianapolis, where he was also busy packing his house to move to Washington.

A senior White House official said that while there was "some" interaction between Pence and Flynn during the transition, it was not "extensive."

"Mike was inventing the process to fill the positions in the cabinet, Flynn's thing was out of reach, hands – he's been in the campaign since the beginning," said this official when asked about the level of Pence's confidence in the incoming national security adviser.

That's a discussion – Pence was more of a newcomer than Flynn – that people close to the vice president say reinforces his claim that he did not know about the extent of these Russian calls. However, that explanation will surely be tested again when Mueller's probe gets closer to Trump's inner circle.

Trump's national security team, operating from a conference room at Trump Tower, relied on New York during the transition, while Pence spent more and more time in Washington at the presidential transition offices a few blocks away of the White House. He even settled temporarily in a house in Chevy Chase while Trump continued to live in his Manhattan apartment.

Two transitional officials who prepared the vice president for his television appearance on January 15 said the questions about Flynn and Kislyak were not a surprise.

"We knew that Pence would be asked about it," said a senior transition official.

Another transitional official said that Pence called Flynn on January 14 specifically to be able to say during his presentations on Sunday that he had spoken with the national security adviser about his conversations with Kislyak.

Flynn insisted that Pence not discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, and during his two appearances on television, Pence easily transmitted that information, which turned out to be a lie. Pence discovered that Flynn lied to him through press reports on February 9 when The Washington Post reported that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak about Russian sanctions.

& # 39; Purposefully miss & # 39;

When asked if Pence as vice president-elect or vice president ever had any reservations about Flynn, a senior transitional official says that Pence and Flynn do not really cross often during the campaign because Flynn traveled with Trump in his campaign plane, but that relationship of Pence and Flynn was "perfectly fine and cordial".

That changed after Flynn's falsehoods were revealed.

"He was really stunned and angry when he discovered that Flynn cheated on him and let him out on national television with inaccurate information," said a senior Pence adviser. There was concern at the time of Pence's staff that the vice president had been deliberately deceived and that even White House officials had kept the vice president in the dark.

A person close to the vice president told CNN in February that they wanted to know who among the president's staff made the decision to tell Trump, but not tell the man that he appeared on television as the face of the administration.

Questions about what Pence knew or how he managed to keep it dark – about Russian contacts is not likely to diminish. However, Pence has not publicly signaled any sign of concern.

Continues his duties and maintains his connections with key Republicans. He invited about 80 guests to his official residence, the Naval Observatory, for a Christmas party on Monday night, one of the many he and Karen Pence will celebrate this year. The Republicans flew from all over the country to attend.

Pence made his way through the room, the attendees said, speaking individually with the guests for approximately 90 minutes. His mood was optimistic and brilliant while visiting old Republican friends.

The vice president did not make a formal speech or talk about the issue that consumed much of Washington: the Russian investigation.

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