How Can Mike Pence Claim Plausible Deniability in His Dealings With Ukraine?

Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

As reported by the Washington Post this week, U.S. officials allege that President Trump repeatedly tried to involve Vice President Mike Pence in his dealings with Ukraine, including “using Pence” to withhold aid until a more thorough corruption investigation was conducted into Joe Biden.

In an effort to extricate him from the investigation, the vice president’s aides have come forward to argue that Pence simply wasn’t aware of what kind of “corruption” Trump was talking about, among other instances of plausible deniability.

But what exactly is plausible deniability?

What’s plausible deniability?

It’s fairly simple: If you argue plausible deniability, you’re stating that you can’t be held responsible for your (or other’s) actions because you weren’t aware of all of the evidence or details—whether that was deliberate or not. (The Washington Post called plausible deniability a “politician’s best friend.”)

One example might include, say, a President retweeting a conspiracy theory on Twitter, only to backtrack and claim the thoughts were not necessarily his, but those of a “well-respected” pundit.

And yes, it could be considered a legal defense. During his administration, President Ronald Reagan escaped indictment over a scandal involving an arms exchange with Iran, relying heavily on “I don’t recall” to make his case.

What is Pence’s team saying?

According to the Washington Post, Pence’s aides are claiming that the Vice President did not pressure Ukraine’s president nor was he made aware that “corruption” meant specifically investigating Biden.

His aides also claim that despite one of Pence’s very own aides listening in on Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, the call “never really got back” to the vice president. It was also confirmed that Pence received a transcript of the call before a meeting with Ukraine’s president in September, but did not “read” or “fully register” the transcript.

So is it possible he doesn’t know anything?

Unless the vice president neglected to read a very important transcript before a very important meeting or ask simple questions like, “hey, what’s this corruption thing about?” he should be held responsible for his involvement in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden. (As New York Mag points out, during a press conference on September 2, Pence seemed to conflate “corruption” with Joe Biden when asked about his meeting with Ukraine, perhaps unraveling his entire case for plausible deniability.)

Wondering where we go from here? On Wednesday, House Democrats threatened to subpoena the White House for any communication Pence has had regarding Trump’s call with Ukraine in July. And as of Thursday, Democrats are currently investigating Pence and his involvement with Ukraine.