Vice President Mike Pence appears to have carried his boss’s threat of withholding military aid to Ukraine until the country investigates former Vice President Joe Biden directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
As Talking Points Memo explained, Pence said during his early-September trip to Poland, where he filled in for President Donald Trump at meetings commemorating the start of World War II, that he and Zelensky discussed corruption in the country in relation to Trump’s “upcoming decision” on “the latest tranche of financial support.”
Pence also said Trump “had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption,” later adding that Ukraine’s rooting out of corruption is “an expectation the American people have and the President has expressed very clearly” in order to continue military aid to the country.
TPM’s Josh Marshall noted that in light of new revelations regarding Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky — during which the president has admitted to discussing Biden — Pence’s “repeated references to progress on corruption and holding up military aid until Zelensky acted could scarcely be more clear.”
While Pence explicitly denied bringing up Biden during his meeting with Zelensky — asked by a reporter, “number one, did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President,” Pence answered, “no” — in the context of Trump’s earlier call with Zelensky, the vice president’s subsequent statements betray his denial.
Here is the full transcript of Pence’s answer to the reporter’s questions, as provided by the White House:
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to ask you about your meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President and for an update on Ukrainian security aid money.
Specifically, number one, did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President? And number two, can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, on the first question, the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.
The President asked me to meet with President Zelensky and to talk about the progress that he’s making on a broad range of areas. And we did that.
We, as I said yesterday, especially since Russian aggression — the illegal occupation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine — the United States has stood strong with Ukraine and we will continue to stand strong with Ukraine for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. And, fortunately, President Zelensky was elected decisively on an anti-corruption message. And he and I discussed yesterday that as he’s assembled his cabinet, and as his parliament has convened, that even in the early days, he informed me that there have been more than 250 bills filed for — that address the issue of public corruption and really restoring integrity to the public process.
I mean, to invest additional taxpayer in Ukraine, the President wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine. And that’s an expectation the American people have and the President has expressed very clearly.
We also talked in some detail about what other European nations are doing for Ukraine. The simple fact is that the United States has carried the load on most of the security investments in Ukraine. And we have been proud to do that, but we believe it’s time for our European partners to step forward and make additional investments to stand with the people of Ukraine as they assert their territorial integrity and sovereignty.
President Zelensky and I talked in great detail about ongoing discussions about resolving the ongoing violence and occupation of Ukraine. And those were the issues that we covered.
But I assured him that the people of the United States stand with Ukraine for their sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I called on him to work with us to engage our European partners to participate at a greater level in Ukraine, and also told him that I would carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.