Trump Jr. alerted top campaign officials about his communications; Pence seemed to dismiss the idea of contact in October 2016.
Vice President Mike Pence was not aware of communications between WikiLeaks and President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., during the 2016 campaign, his office said in a statement on Monday.
Trump Jr. exchanged messages with WikiLeaks during the fall of 2016, and alerted top campaign officials of the contacts, The Atlantic reported on Monday. Trump Jr. later confirmed on Twitter that he had exchanged direct messages with the organization.
“The Vice President was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with Wikileaks,” said Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, in a statement. “He first learned of this news from a published report earlier tonight.”
Pence was asked in October 2016 if the Trump campaign was “in cahoots” with WikiLeaks as it released droves of damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pence responded at the time.
The statement on Monday marks just the most recent time Pence has claimed to be out of the loop on critical information related to Trump associate’s communications that could be linked to the Russia probe.
Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks beginning in September 2016. The messages were part of documents turned over the congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the election.
Following one exchange, Trump Jr. alerted campaign officials Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner that WikiLeaks had made contact, and Kushner forwarded the message to Hope Hicks, according to The Atlantic report. None of Pence’s top aides was named as having received the message.
Like Trump, Pence regularly touted information obtained from the WikiLeaks dumps while making the case against Clinton during the campaign.
Pence’s statements have remained consistent with the information he has possessed at the time, according to a person familiar with the Pence side of the campaign’s operations.
That comment alluded to the fact that this is not the first time Pence has made factually inaccurate claims related to the campaign’s Russia ties or the investigation into those ties.
Most famously, Pence said during the transition that Michael Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition. Flynn had, in fact discussed those sanctions, as The Washington Post reported in February. The White House had previously been alerted that those conversations had been picked up by intelligence officials, though Pence said he learned about them from media reports. Flynn was fired as a result of misleading the vice president, Trump would later say.
Pence had also claimed the transition was not seeking a security clearance for Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., which also proved false.
In both cases, Pence based his comments on information he had been provided with, according to those close to him.
Pence also toed the administration line after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, telling reporters that the decision was made as a result of the deputy attorney general’s recommendation as laid out in a memorandum. Trump later said he would have fired Comey regardless of the recommendation, and had the Russia investigation in mind when he made the move.
Still, despite repeated instances of being placed in embarrassing positions — with the appearance of having either lied or been badly out of the loop about critical information — Pence has remained one of Trump’s most vigorous defenders and popular surrogates.
Pence has retained his own outside counsel, Richard Cullen, to represent him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference. Cullen met with Mueller over the summer to express Pence’s intent to cooperate with the probe.