Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared to be taking a stronger position than before over the Justice Department’s choice to charge his former running mate on Wednesday, stating that he “cannot defend what is alleged” in the most recent indictment against former President Donald Trump.
In spite of this, Pence, who claimed to have seen the 49-page report over the weekend, repeated his charge that the Justice Department used a “two-tiered system of justice” against Trump. Pence also stated that he would reserve judgment until after Trump has had his day in court.
“This indictment contains serious charges, and I cannot defend what is alleged,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday, personalizing the issue both with his family’s military service and his own experiences with security clearance. “The very prospect that what is alleged here took place — creating an opportunity where highly sensitive classified material could have fallen into the wrong hands, even inadvertently — that jeopardizes our national security [and] puts at risk the men and women of our Armed Forces.”
“I can’t defend what is alleged, but the former president has a right to his day in court,” Pence repeated. “I just can’t — I can’t believe that politics didn’t play some role here.”
The remarks were similar to what the former vice president made to the Wall Street Journal editorial board on Tuesday afternoon, just after Trump entered a not guilty plea to 37 charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith about his handling of classified materials in a Miami federal courthouse.
“As the father and father-in-law of two men that currently serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, I will never diminish concerns over the handling of classified materials,” Pence said. “The documents that were alleged to be in the president’s possession — describing defense capabilities of our country, potential vulnerabilities of the United States and our allies — if these materials had ever inadvertently made their way in the hands of foreign interests, it would jeopardize the security of our country as well as the safety and security of our Armed Forces.”
“President Trump is entitled to his day in court, and I’m going to listen with great interest to his defense and will render any judgment about this matter after the president has had the opportunity to make his case,” he continued. “But I will tell you … I’ve lived through years of politicization at the Department of Justice, and I share the concern of millions of Americans about the way politics has played a hand.”
“I want to emphasize that when we look at an indictment, it’s only one side of the story,” Pence added Tuesday. Trump has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
He said the indictment “argues for a fresh start in this country” and vowed in both interviews to “clean house” at the Department of Justice and FBI if elected president.
“One of the first things we’re going to do is clean house at the highest level of the Department of Justice and bring in men and women who are above reproach, who are respected on both sides of the aisle,” he told CNBC. “We’ve got to have respect for the rule of law in this country and for all those that enforce the laws.”
Then, when asked how he could “square” his position that “no one’s above the law” with his support of Trump’s efforts to weaken the Justice Department, Pence responded, “I don’t think there’s any circle to square.”
“I think two things are true today: Number one is no one’s above the law. This indictment includes serious charges. I can’t defend what’s alleged there. The handling of classified materials is vitally important to the country,” he said. “But look, we’ve gone through about — trying to do the math here — about out seven years where the American people have lost confidence in our Department of Justice.”
When asked on Friday about whether Trump should withdraw from the race as some rivals have suggested as the indictment was unveiled at MaryAnn’s Diner in New Hampshire, Pence referred to that as “premature.”
“I think the former president has a right to make his defense. And we’ll respect that right,” he said.
Pence used the same word — “premature” — to describe a push from others in the party to rally broad support for a commitment to pardon Trump if elected, even though he did not urge Trump to abandon his presidential campaign.
“I take the pardon authority very seriously. It’s an enormously important power of someone in an executive position, and I just think it’s premature to have a conversation about that right now, guys,” Pence told conservative radio host Clay Travis of the effort, spearheaded by entrepreneur and 2024 hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy.
Pence also said at that time, before having had a chance to review the indictment, that he’d hoped the Department of Justice “would see its way clear to resolve these issues with the former president without moving forward with charges.”
“I would hope that the Department of Justice, however the case against the former president proceeds, will proceed on the inquiry of President Biden and also his family with equal vigor,” Pence said, referring to the ongoing investigation into Biden’s potential mishandling of classified documents.
Pence testified earlier this year before a different federal grand jury looking into his former running mate’s attempts to rig the 2020 election. Pence was exonerated of all charges in his own case involving secret data.
Only a few days had passed since Pence began his quest for the Republican presidential candidacy when Trump was indicted. Trump currently has a sizable lead in the nomination contest, and according to an ABC News poll taken after Trump’s initial conviction in New York, he actually gained some ground in the primary. Regarding the felonies he was accused of in New York City, Trump entered a not guilty plea.