Playing It Safe or Plotting? Mike Pence and the Grand Jury - by Greer Clem
Yesterday, the New York Times released a piece saying, "Republicans joke that Pence is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago." Speculation surrounding a potential 2020 run for Pence has been heating up since his recent events in New Hampshire and Iowa, his courting of big donors, and the hiring of Nick Ayers as his new chief of staff. Ayers is a political strategist who headed Pence's VP campaign and was a senior advisor to Trump's Presidential Transition Team. Despite Pence's vehement statement denying any intention to run in 2020 and calling the allegations "offensive to me, my family, and our entire team," we know for certain he's playing the long game; that may mean a 2020 run or it could mean the more standard 2024 run. But what I want to talk about is what this speculation means in the context of Mueller's grand jury. Plenty of political pundits have been quick to discuss what Pence's motivation could be in the lead-up to 2020 and what the implications could be for Trump's support with the Republican base, but the grand jury is enormously important, not yet discussed, context for Pence's recent movements.
If you read our latest "Terms" article on grand juries and grand jury powers, then you know that the probative capacity of a grand jury is extensive. Grand juries can serve as purely investigative bodies, but they aren't created unless there is sufficient reason to investigate something. What a grand jury is looking for is probable cause that a crime was committed, so Trump supporters can dismiss Mueller's actions all day long, but the fact remains that at the end of this investigation, it is likely they will have found some probable cause. I'm not saying that a crime was necessarily committed by Trump himself, but we all know he's backed himself into perjure corner by repeatedly declaring he had no knowledge of any campaign affiliates meeting with any Russians. Now, how does this relate to Mike Pence? In fact, this may be the deciding factor into whether or not Pence gets to make a 2020 run, and he may well have realized this himself.
The thing with an investigation into matters as serious as presidential elections is that it will be arduous and lengthy. No one wants to half-ass an investigation into an American president. Let's use Watergate as an example: on October 10, 1972, the first story breaks saying the FBI believes Nixon aides were responsible for the Watergate break in (well done Washington Post). November 7, 1973, Nixon is reelected to a second term, overcoming the recent allegations which hadn't had time to take root or be sufficiently proven (see where I'm heading?). It was not until July 27, 1974 that the House of Representatives voted to impeach Nixon and remove him from the presidency. By the time it was all said and done, the investigation through to the impeachment process took about two years.
Now, President Trump may be a hotheaded idiot, but you can be assured Mike Pence is not. He may be a constipated and overly zealous misogynist, but he is no idiot. Pence knows how long it took to impeach Nixon and he knows how to correctly fill out an SF-86 - something he perhaps should have shared with Jared Kushner. But Pence also knows that Trump is a man who demands loyalty and who loves public statements, and you can be damn sure that's exactly what he he was doing today when he made his fiery proclamation denying plans for a 2020 run and reaffirming his unwavering support for his President.
So how are Pence's actions to be interpreted? Realistically, I think Pence is evaluating the grand jury investigation and calculating what his 2020 chances are. Pence is going to do everything by the books so that when this whole ship goes down he can say he was just trying to serve his country. If the ship hasn't gone down by 2020, he'll be all the more prepared for a 2024 run and will have a two-term (dear heavens we hope not) President behind him for support. If we are to let our imaginations run a little wild, and because I like to think of Pence reading this and his chin sinking even farther into his neck with rage, we could take these actions to mean Pence has no faith in his beloved Donald. In a hopeful world, we could interpret these actions to mean that Pence knows Mueller will find something and he's trying to cushion his fall before it happens. But, alas, this is 2017 and optimism is scarce, so it's safer to go with the first option. Either way, Pence plans to be around for a long time, which is dangerous to racial minorities, the lower class, women, and anyone who is not a devout Christian. So if he's going to stay on his toes, we have to make sure we keep up.