Pence refuses to declassify Ukraine call despite previously claiming he had “no objection at all”

The vice president’s lawyer appeared to attack an aide of Pence for testifying about the call the call to Congress

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 12, 2019 3:05PM (EST)

Vice President Mike Pence (AP/Patrick Semansk)
Vice President Mike Pence (AP/Patrick Semansk)

Vice President Mike Pence refused to declassify his Sept. 18 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky despite claiming that he had “no objection” to releasing the transcript just weeks earlier.

Pence aide Jennifer Williams testified to the House Intelligence Committee last month that the Sept. 18 call was a follow-up to the vice president’s earlier meeting with Zelensky. She called it a “very positive call,” adding that there was no mention of the investigations President Donald Trump had demanded from Zelensky on their call. Days after her testimony, Williams submitted a supplemental filing to the committee, which Pence’s office also classified.

“The Office of the Vice President’s decision to classify ‘certain portions’ of the Sept. 18 call . . . cannot be justified on national security or any other legitimate grounds we can discern,” Schiff said in a letter to Pence. “Having reviewed the supplemental submission, the committee strongly believes that there is no legitimate basis for the Office of the Vice President to assert that the information . . . is classified.”

But Pence’s office rejected Schiff’s request Wednesday.

“At this point, the Intelligence Committee’s oversight authority is limited to those areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate,” Pence lawyer Matthew Morgan wrote in a letter to Schiff, which was obtained by Politico. “Your request, coming after the completion of your report, serves no legitimate legislative or impeachment inquiry purpose.”

Morgan’s letter also appeared to hit out at Williams, a national security aide who advised the vice president on European and Russian affairs.

“The contents of a classified call with a foreign head of state should never have been discussed in an unclassified committee hearing or an unclassified deposition,” Morgan wrote.

The refusal came just weeks after Pence told the Fox Business Network that he had “no objection at all” to declassifying the contents of the call.

“As I said before, I'd have no objection to releasing the transcripts of a couple of telephone calls that I have with President Zelensky,” Pence said in November.

“The president did nothing wrong,” Pence said. “The point is whether it was my conversation with President Zelensky, whether it was President Trump's telephone call in July. I mean, the American people can read the transcript.” He has released no such transcript.

Pence has been on the defensive about his canceled trip to Zelensky’s inauguration, which the White House has written off as a timing issue. But Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has claimed through his attorneys that he delivered a threat to the Zelensky team that Pence would not attend his inauguration if Zelensky did not announce the investigations the presidents sought. European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland later implicated Pence in what he described as a “quid pro quo” scheme.

The House Intelligence Committee in its impeachment report said that Pence, along with other top Cabinet officials, was either a “knowledgeable or active” participant in the scheme.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., cited Pence during Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the articles of impeachment against Trump.

"Since our founders ratified the Constitution in 1788, the president of the United States has had a duty to advance our national interests — not his own personal or political interests," Cicilline said. “Two hundred and twenty years later, a congressman on this committee said, and I quote, 'This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether or not the person serving as president of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.'”

"The congressman who said that was Mike Pence,” he added. “And he was exactly right.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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