Pence shuts down 2020 spec­u­la­tion

VP falls in line with a White House that’s touchy at any hint that Trump might not be the GOP nom­i­nee.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura King

WASH­ING­TON — For months, Pres­i­dent Trump’s White House has been prone to veer­ing off mes­sage, some­times wildly so. But it was crys­tal clear on one point Sun­day: No one ex­cept Trump should put up a hand for the 2020 GOP pres­i­den­tial nod.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence de­nied that he was con­sid­er­ing a run for the pres­i­dency the next time around, is­su­ing a state­ment, the ve­he­mence of which un­der­scored how sen­si­tive the White House is to any ques­tion­ing of whether Trump will seek a sec­ond term.

In what ap­peared to be a co­or­di­nated mes­sage, the White House also hit back Sun­day at a re­port in the New York Times that de­scribed steps Pence and some GOP law­mak­ers have taken that could po­si­tion them for pres­i­den­tial bids.

Pence went so far as to call the news­pa­per’s re­port “dis­grace­ful and of­fen­sive.”

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple know that I could not be more hon­ored to be work­ing side by side with a pres­i­dent who is mak­ing Amer­ica great again,” the vice pres­i­dent said, in­vok­ing Trump’s 2016 cam­paign slo­gan.

“What­ever fake news may come our way,” he said, re­peat­ing an­other fa­vored pres­i­den­tial phrase, “my en­tire team will con­tinue to fo­cus all our ef­forts to ad­vance the pres­i­dent’s agenda and see him re­elected in 2020.”

Trump be­gan fundrais­ing for a 2020 cam­paign al­most im­me­di­ately upon tak­ing of­fice, but a re­elec­tion bid would face sev­eral po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles:

He was 70 when he took of­fice, the old­est first-term pres­i­dent to be in­au­gu­rated, has since turned 71, and would be the old­est sec­ondterm chief ex­ec­u­tive were he to run again and win the 2020 elec­tion.

If age is not enough of an is­sue, his ap­proval rat­ings are at a low that is un­prece­dented at this point in a pres­i­den­tial term.

More­over, an in­creas­ingly com­plex spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, look­ing at whether Trump’s cam­paign co­op­er­ated with Krem­lin

in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 race, has been gath­er­ing mo­men­tum. Spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III re­cently be­gan work­ing with a grand jury in Wash­ing­ton.

Mueller has not com­mented on the course of the inquiry, but his in­ves­ti­ga­tors have sought doc­u­ments re­lated to sev­eral as­so­ciates of Trump’s, in­clud­ing his former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, Michael Flynn, and his former cam­paign man­ager, Paul Manafort. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are also ex­am­in­ing a meet­ing that Trump’s son Don­ald Trump Jr. held with sev­eral Rus­sians and Rus­sian Amer­i­cans in early June 2016, a few weeks be­fore the se­nior Trump re­ceived the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (DBur­bank), a former pros­e­cu­tor, said the re­ported im­pan­el­ing of a grand jury pointed to an inquiry that was pick­ing up its pace, not slow­ing to an end.

“You can’t read that this means that in­dict­ments are go­ing to fol­low,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” None­the­less, he said, “it does mean the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not only not be­ing turned off, but it is mov­ing into a new phase.”

Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosen­stein, to whom Mueller re­ports be­cause Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions has re­cused him­self from Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters, said Mueller would be guided by the emerg­ing ev­i­dence, wher­ever it takes him, and im­plic­itly re­but­ted Trump’s ac­cu­sa­tion that the en­tire mat­ter is a “fraud.”

“The spe­cial coun­sel is sub­ject to the rules and reg­u­la­tions of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, and we don’t en­gage in fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions,” Rosen­stein said on “Fox News Sun­day.” Mueller could seek au­tho­riza­tion to broaden the scope of the inquiry if he deemed it nec­es­sary, Rosen­stein said.

Rosen­stein also com­mented on the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s an­nounce­ment Fri­day that it was step­ping up in­ves­ti­ga­tions of leaks of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. He ap­peared to at least par­tially pull back from Ses­sions’ sug­ges­tion that pros­e­cu­tors might pur­sue re­porters over in­for­ma­tion they’ve pub­lished.

“The at­tor­ney gen­eral has been very clear that we’re af­ter the leak­ers, not the jour­nal­ists. We’re af­ter the peo­ple who are com­mit­ting a crime,” Rosen­stein said. “We don’t pros­e­cute jour­nal­ists for do­ing their jobs.”

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, re­porters who pub­lish in­for­ma­tion are not com­mit­ting a crime,” he said, although he added that “there might be a cir­cum­stance where they do.”

The move to in­crease leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions ap­pears to have pla­cated Trump, who in re­cent weeks pub­licly dis­par­aged both Ses­sions and Rosen­stein. But his anger at Mueller and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues to threaten the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the White House.

Trump has talked with friends and aides about fir­ing Mueller — some­thing that law­mak­ers from both sides of the aisle have ex­plic­itly warned him against, even if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion ap­pears to en­croach on ar­eas the pres­i­dent and his al­lies con­sider out of bounds, such as Trump’s fi­nan­cial en­tan­gle­ments.

Pre­serv­ing the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­de­pen­dence has been enough of a con­cern in Congress that two pairs of law­mak­ers on op­po­site sides of the aisle have in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion meant to shield Mueller against any at­tempt by Trump to fire him.

“We’ll let the facts lead us to whether or not it was a hoax or a dis­trac­tion,” Sen. Thom Til­lis (R-N.C.), one of the law­mak­ers, said on ABC’s “This Week” when asked about Trump’s long­stand­ing con­tention that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a witch hunt. “But we are where we are, and I want to see this in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded so that we can get on to do­ing the good work the pres­i­dent has al­ready started.”

De­spite the pres­i­dent’s per­ceived po­lit­i­cal and le­gal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, most prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans have avoided hint­ing at a chal­lenge if Trump does seek the 2020 nom­i­na­tion. The main ex­cep­tion has been Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich, who op­posed Trump to the end in 2016 and has not ruled out run­ning against him.

Other Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Sens. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Ne­braska, have been mak­ing the rounds of po­lit­i­cal din­ners and fundrais­ers, build­ing the sort of sup­port that they could use for a pres­i­den­tial bid.

The sub­ject is ex­tremely sen­si­tive within Trump’s White House; the pres­i­dent has been known to pun­ish un­der­lings he per­ceives as en­gi­neer­ing too high a per­sonal pro­file for them­selves.

In an ap­pear­ance that co­in­cided with the re­lease of Pence’s strongly worded state­ment, White House coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way said it was “ab­so­lutely true the vice pres­i­dent is get­ting ready for 2020 — for re­elec­tion as vice pres­i­dent.”

Ap­pear­ing on ABC’s “This Week,” she said she had “zero” con­cern of any pres­i­den­tial as­pi­ra­tions on Pence’s part in the com­ing elec­tion cy­cle.

“Vice Pres­i­dent Pence is a very loyal, very du­ti­ful, but also in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive vice pres­i­dent,” she said.

Trump, who has em­barked on a 17-day visit — which he de­scribes as a work­ing va­ca­tion — to his golf prop­erty in Bedminster, N.J., was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet Sun­day morn­ing on Twit­ter.

Less than a week into the ten­ure of his nonon­sense new White House chief of staff, re­tired Ma­rine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, Trump con­fined him­self to a sin­gle tweet, al­beit in his sig­na­ture all-caps style: “MAKE AMER­ICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Olivier Douliery Abaca Press

VICE PRES­I­DENT Mike Pence, pic­tured with wife Karen, said it was “dis­grace­ful” to sug­gest he was work­ing to­ward a pres­i­den­tial bid.

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