Mike Pence backs release of transcripts of his calls with Ukraine

Maureen Groppe and Donnelle Eller, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that he has no problem with the White House releasing transcripts of his conversations with the Ukrainian president, a move he said White House lawyers are considering even as the administration has refused to turn over other documents requested by House Democrats as part of their impeachment inquiry.

"I’d have no objections to that, and we’re discussing that with White House counsel as we speak," Pence told reporters during a trip to Iowa.

He was less direct when asked five times by reporters whether he was ever aware of President Donald Trump's efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his family.

Pence responded that he never discussed the Bidens with Zelensky, that Zelensky has said he was not pressured, that the summary of Trump's call with Zelensky doesn't show a quid pro quo and that the issue of military aid was "from my experience" not connected to Trump's interest in the Bidens.

"What I can tell you is, all of our discussions internally, between the president and our team, and our contacts and my office with Ukraine, were entirely focused on the broader issues of the lack of European support and corruption," Pence said.

In addition to Trump asking Zelensky to "look into" the Bidens' involvement in Ukraine, Trump also said last week that "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

But when Pence was asked Wednesday by reporters if it's OK for Trump to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival, the vice president denied that's what Trump has done.

"I don't believe that's the case," he said.

Text messages between U.S. diplomats released last week by House Democrats show a months-long effort to push Ukraine's newly elected president to publicly promise he would order an investigation into Biden's son and also probe a conspiracy theory about Ukraine's alleged role in the 2016 U.S. election.

In exchange, the diplomats believed, Trump would reward Zelensky with a highly sought-after meeting with Trump at the White House and the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid that Trump had put on hold. 

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, answers questions from the press after speaking at an America First Policies event on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, at Manning Farms in Waukee.

Democrats are investigating any role Pence played and have given him a Tuesday deadline to turn over a host of documents.

The requested materials include those relating to Pence's in-person meeting with Zelensky in Poland in September and a call a few weeks later.

Trump and his team told Democrats Tuesday the White House will not provide documents or witnesses to House impeachment investigators because it considers their investigation to be unfair and illegitimate.

But after the White House last month released a summary of Trump's July call with Zelensky, Trump said it exonerated him and reporters should also review Pence’s communications with the Ukrainian president.

Reporters asked Pence Wednesday whether he maintains the position he took on foreign interference during the 2016 vice presidential debate when he called it improper for the Clinton Foundation to have accepted tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments and foreign donors while she was secretary of state.

“Foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process,” candidate Pence said then.

Pence said he stands by those comments.

"That's why President Trump is so concerned about foreign interference in our election in Ukraine," he said.

Trump allies have pursued the theory that Ukrainian officials cooperated with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election.

The American intelligence community has concluded that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in Trump's favor, a fact that has clouded Trump’s presidency.

During Pence's Iowa trip, which included a fundraiser for Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, Pence visited a Waukee farm to push Congress to turn its focus from investigations to passage of a trade deal with Mexico and Canada that he said will drive new demand for U.S. farm goods.

More: Joe Biden, for the first time, calls for Trump's impeachment

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment inquiry: Mike Pence backs release of transcripts with Ukraine