Vice President Mike Pence was asked Tuesday night about a report from a new book that he had been alerted to be ready to assume the powers of the presidency if Donald Trump had to be anesthetized in an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed hospital last November. Here's what he said:
Pence: "I don't recall being told to be on standby. I was informed that the President had a doctor's appointment, and --"
Bret Baier: "I don't want to speculate on it, I just want to clear that up."
Pence: "I've got to tell you, part of this job is you are always on standby if you're vice president of the United States. But the American people can be confident that this President is in remarkable good health, and every single day I see that energy and high relief."
Like, come on man. I have a pretty high bar for incredulity -- I've been covering politics for the better part of two decades -- but to say that Pence's statement strains credulity is the understatement of the year.
To believe Pence, you have to believe that he simply cannot remember whether he has been told to be on alert to assume the duties of the presidency if Trump needed to go under for any sort of procedure.
This is not like being asked to remember what you ate for dinner last Tuesday. Or whether you left your wallet in your car. Does Pence truly believe that ANYONE thinks that he wouldn't remember the time when he was alerted to the possibility that he might have to assume the duties of the President of the United States? Like, is that something you just forget?
OF COURSE it isn't. And Pence's reply that as vice president you always have to be on standby is like an understudy in a Broadway show saying, "Well, you always have to be on standby" when asked if he had ever played the lead role on stage. Give me a break! That understudy not only remembers every second of that lead performance but also understands the radical difference between that night and all the other noted when the lead actor did the performance while he waited in the wings.
Pence's "I don't recall" response on Trump's hospital visit is not only ridiculous but also adds to the mystery surrounding the actual trip. Had he simply said "Yes, I do remember that. The move was taken out of an abundance of caution and never amounted to anything" it would be a whole heck of a lot less suspicious than what he did say.
Remember that, at the time, the White House insisted that Trump was simply getting a head start on his annual physical. This is from CNN's initial reporting of the visit:
"[White House press secretary Stephanie] Grisham on Saturday said Trump decided to get parts of his physical done early because he had a 'free weekend' in Washington, but did not responded to questions about why Trump did not get his full physical exam -- which typically takes 4 hours -- done this weekend."
Grisham added that Trump underwent a "quick exam and labs." She didn't explain why the Walter Reed medical staff had not been informed in advance of the visit -- as is standard protocol for a VIP visit like one by the President.
Which, as I wrote at the time, seemed a bit fishy.
Then, on Tuesday, reporting from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt's new book -- "Donald Trump v. the United States" -- that said Pence had been alerted to the possible need to assume the duties of the presidency on that November day. Which seems a bit odd, since the possibility of Trump being anesthetized doesn't really jibe with the White House's insistence that he was just getting a jump start on his physical and undergoing a "quick exam and labs." None of that would seem to necessitate being unconscious.
Trump, in an attempt, I guess, to knock down the questions being raised about the visit, actually created more with a string of tweets on Tuesday.
"Mike Pence was never put on standby, & there were no mini-strokes," Trump wrote in one. (Worth noting: The specific assertion that Trump had "mini-strokes" has not been verified or independently reported by reputable news outlets.) "This is just more Fake News by @CNN, a phony story. The reason for the visit to Walter Reed, together with the full press pool, was to complete my yearly physical. Short visit, then returned (with press) to W.H..."
OK ... but the thing is that the White House said at the time that Trump went to Walter Reed to start his annual physical, not to finish it up as Trump claimed in the tweet Tuesday night. Nitpicking? Maybe, but not when you consider the broader inconsistencies in the story the White House has been telling about the Walter Reed visit -- and Pence's beyond-belief response that he doesn't remember whether he had been told to be ready to assume the duties of the presidency.
With every passing day, the White House continues to create more reason to believe that we just aren't getting the whole story here. And that more questions need to be asked.