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Politics & Government

White House Appears To Keep Pence Out Of The Loop On Flynn

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Vice President Mike Pence was kept in the dark for two weeks about whether former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. And most of the time, being out of the loop is not a good thing for a vice president, but there is little that's typical about the Trump administration. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On January 26, the acting attorney general told White House Counsel Don McGahn that what administration officials had been saying publicly didn't match up with what was actually said in intercepted calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer picks up here with what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisers.

KEITH: That small group of senior advisers, though, didn't include the man who is one heartbeat away from the presidency even though it was Pence who the week before the inauguration had gone on national TV to vouch for Flynn. Reporters gathered in Spicer's office late yesterday asked when the vice president was told.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPICER: You'd have to ask the vice president's office.

KEITH: Conveniently, a few minutes later as reporters were filing out of Spicer's office, Marc Lotter walked up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARC LOTTER: They just referred you to us.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: He's a spokesman for Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOTTER: What I would tell you is that the vice president became aware of incomplete information that he'd received on February 9, last Thursday night, based on media accounts. He did an inquiry based on those media accounts.

KEITH: Veterans of past administrations say this lapse is mind-boggling. Eric Edelman was a senior official in Vice President Cheney's office.

ERIC EDELMAN: The fact that nobody thought to tell him about this information for two weeks and that he found out about it from, like, the rest of us reading it in the press is really pretty remarkable.

KEITH: And not in a good sense of the word.

EDELMAN: You would think given the fact that the vice president is one of the people in the White House with more experience in national security affairs than almost anybody else in the group, that he would have been informed of this. But since it went to the very issue of his own credibility, it's astonishing that he wasn't informed.

KEITH: Edelman says being kept in the dark for two weeks could have its upsides if at some point there are more damning revelations about Flynn and the White House's handling of the situation.

EDELMAN: In a certain sense, ignorance could well be bliss for Vice President Pence.

KEITH: But there are serious downsides, too, because this incident could make it look like Pence isn't in the president's inner circle.

BRIAN WALSH: It is problematic and hopefully something that won't repeat itself.

KEITH: Brian Walsh is a former Senate Republican leadership aide.

WALSH: The vice president is someone who has a great deal of credibility among House and Senate Republicans, and he is someone who has been serving as an effective and credible bridge between Capitol Hill and a president who ran as an outsider. And so it doesn't help anyone. And it's hopefully something that the White House will learn from, and it will not repeat itself.

KEITH: Just this week, Pence opened his second office at the Capitol, this one on the House side. He had lunch with Senate Republicans and sat in on meetings with the president and world leaders. And when the president has legislation to send up to Congress, it's Pence who will be the main emissary. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.