Adam Schiff pushes Pence to declassify aide's secret information — implying it might be embarrassing or illegal

Adam Schiff pushes Pence to declassify aide's secret information — implying it might be embarrassing or illegal
Vice President Mike Pence arrives at Joint Base Andrews Tuesday June 25, 2019 (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)
News & Politics

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent a letter on Friday to Vice President Mike Pence urging him to declassify the entirety of his Sept. 18 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky for use in the impeachment inquiry.

Though the vice president's office, along with the rest of the administration, has stonewalled the impeachment inquiry's requests for documents, Schiff's committee obtained information about the Sept. 18 call through Jennifer Williams, a Pence aide who has already testified. Initially, Schiff explained, Williams testified about Pence's call and did not assert that any part of it was classified. When she testified publicly, however, she said Pence's office had since determined that the call was classified. She later sent the committee a "supplemental submission" after reviewing "materials" that refreshed her memory about the call — and it's that supplemental submission that Schiff would like to see declassified.

"Having reviewed the Supplemental Submission, the Committee strongly believes that there is no legitimate basis for the Office of Vice President to assert that the information contained therein relating to your September 18 call with President Zelensky is classified," Schiff wrote in the letter.

The letter even implied that the classification may have even been erroneously and improperly used to conceal embarrassing information or violations of the law. Schiff reminded Pence's office that an executive order requires that in "no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified” for reasons of embarrassment or illegality. However, this might be a bluff or an effort to coax Pence to declassify by floating that idea that he would have nefarious reasons for keeping the call secret.

Schiff also pointed out that Pence has previously said publicly that he would have no problem with the Sept. 18 call transcript being released. The office's decision to now claim the call is partially classified is "contradictory of your public avowals in favor of transparency," Schiff wrote.

When Williams was initially deposed by the committee, she was directly asked if Pence in the Sept. 18 call brought up any specific investigations — not of the Bidens, Burisma, Crowdstrike or 2016 — the ask that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. It's not clear what details or updates she included in her supplemental submission, but she said she provided the information "for the sake of completeness."

Schiff asked Pence to respond by Dec. 11.

Cody Fenwick is a senior editor at AlterNet. He writes about politics, media and science. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.

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