GOP group slams Mike Pence for 'who cares?' comment in response to Trump business conflicts

Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – A GOP group critical of President Donald Trump is now targeting Vice President Mike Pence to call out what it considers corruption in the administration.

An ad that will air on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” Thursday accuses Pence of hypocrisy for not objecting to foreign governments’ spending at Trump hotels after having criticized the Clinton Foundation for accepting donations from foreign governments when Hillary Clinton was secretary of State.

The group, Republicans for the Rule of Law, is directed by Bill Kristol, a conservative commentator who worked for Vice President Dan Quayle but is a vocal critic of Trump and Pence.

One of the group's board members is Peter Rusthoven, a Republican from Pence's home state of Indiana who has known and liked the vice president for decades. Pence officiated at his remarriage. 

"I do think it's a legitimate point to be made," said Rusthoven, an Indianapolis lawyer who worked in the Reagan administration. "This is the kind of thing that, as the vice president's own video clips from the campaign show, Republicans were outspoken about during the Clinton years."

More: Pence friend explains why he's part of an anti-Trump group criticizing the vice president

Pence's top aide dismissed the group, saying the only constituency for the "Never Trump" Republicans is the liberal media.

"Without free promotion by anti-Trump press, no one would even know they still existed," chief of staff Marc Short said in a statement.

What are we going to do, Mike? Trump's victory posed problems for Pence and his wife, new book says

Republicans for the Rule of Law bills itself as a "group of life-long Republicans dedicated to defending the institutions of our republic and upholding the rule of law.”

The group started as an effort to push back on the Trump administration’s claim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was a witch hunt. They’ve also urged Republican senators to act on proposed election security bills, among other issues.

The new ad highlights examples of foreign governments frequenting Trump properties. It includes snippets from the 2016 campaign showing Pence saying it would be a conflict of interest for Clinton to accept foreign and corporate donations to her foundation if she were president.

But “when it comes to President Trump’s conflicts of interest,” the ad said, “all Mike Pence has to say is, `Who cares?’”

That line is excerpted from a Fox News interview Pence did soon after the 2016 election. Pence was asked why Trump’s businesses would not pose a conflict of interest.

“Well, I can tell you, in a recent interview after the election, the president-elect summed up his view of his interest in his business life in two words. He said, `Who cares,’” Pence responded. “Donald Trump is completely focused on the people's business. And I promise you, and I can assure the public that they’ll have the proper separation from their business enterprise.”

Trump declared after the election that he was turning control of his businesses over to his sons. But he did not divest.

Trump faces lawsuits over his ownership of a hotel that caters to foreign guests.

Congressional Democrats have also been investigating possible conflicts of interest, including asking the administration for detailed costs of Pence's recent two-night stay at the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Ireland this month.

Stay at Trump resort questioned: House Democrats investigating Vice President Mike Pence's stay at Trump resort in Ireland

Chris Truax, a spokesman for Republicans for the Rule of Law, said the ad goes after Pence instead of Trump because "it's pretty clear that President Trump isn't going to listen."

"Vice President Pence might listen," Truax said. "He was very vocal, and he was right, when he complained about Hillary Clinton soliciting donations for her foundation."

The group is spending $20,000 to air the ad on MSNBC and social media.

Republican attorney Peter Rusthoven speaks at an Indiana House Judiciary Committee hearing in 2014.

Rusthoven, who was not involved in the creation of the ad, said Pence is in an impossible position. He can't allow a sliver of daylight between himself and Trump on any issue. Still, he added, Pence also allowed himself to be put in that position.

"I have had an affection for him and admired many of the things he has said and done," Rusthoven said. "Choices have consequences for everyone. One is, he’s in this situation now. And it will inevitably affect how people look at him. That’s just part of the deal."

'Quiet tribute': Pence carries book as tribute to Flight 93 passengers he says saved his life on 9/11

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence targeted by GOP group over Trump alleged business conflicts