Commentary: Mike Pence lawyers up

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – When he was running for president, Donald Trump pledged, again and again, to put Americans back to work.

Who knew that he meant only the nation’s lawyers?

John Krull, publisher,

As the various investigations into possible ties Trump, the Trump campaign and the Trump administration might have with Russia, almost everyone who ever has had anything to do with the president has lawyered up.

The news that Vice President – and former Indiana Gov. – Mike Pence has retained outside counsel seemed to catch some people off-guard.

It shouldn’t have.

Hiring his own lawyer shows that Pence understands that he’s walking through a minefield. Or, more precisely, it shows he knows he’s attached himself to a commander-in-chief who has decided to move through that minefield by putting on a blindfold and then tap-dancing merrily along to the tune of the resulting explosions.

Pence knows Trump can’t protect himself at this stage, much less anyone else. He also probably realizes by now that Trump doesn’t care about protecting those around him, except possibly – and only possibly – his own family.

Pence’s decision to hire his own lawyer was prudent. At some point, probably sooner than anyone would have anticipated, the vice president’s interests – and the interests of the nation – are going to diverge from those of the president.

Donald Trump will have to focus on saving his own neck.

And Mike Pence will have to start thinking about moving into the Oval Office.

The president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has been costly – and each succeeding move Trump has made to try to curtail the damage has only added to those costs.

When Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he stopped short of saying Trump had obstructed justice. But he also drew a portrait of obstruction of justice that greatly, maybe even exactly, resembled the president’s actions.

The president and his team reacted with a fury born of desperation.

First, they tried to discredit Comey, which failed to gain traction. Then they floated a trial balloon about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which provoked strong pushback even among Republicans. And then they mused aloud about firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which also fell flat.

At the same time, Trump tweeted things that, at best, seemed to be disconnected from reality and, at worst, seemed to contradict his own previous statements. He even confessed he was under investigation for obstruction, which is an impeachable offense.

Small wonder that many of the country’s best law firms have refused to take the president as a client. Most decent lawyers prefer to work with clients who don’t work to convict themselves.

That’s left Trump with as his attorney Jay Sekulow, a conservative activist who has made a career out of failing to make a case that the First Amendment demands, rather than prohibits, government from establishing a national religion.

Sekulow is an odd choice to defend Trump. He’s much more comfortable with Pence’s theocratic form of governance than this president’s more bacchanalian approach to personal and political conduct.

But, then, beggars can’t always be choosers – and Donald Trump is not operating from a position of strength these days.

That’s why Sekulow’s “defense” of the president on the weekend chat shows often resembled the ramblings of a schizophrenic without proper medication.

It’s not hard to decipher the signal the president is sending. His audience isn’t the Americans who didn’t vote for him or even those who voted for him as the least offensive option available to them.

No, it’s to his hardcore supporters and, more important, to the Republicans in Congress. He’s rallying his base to show the GOP leadership that, at the very least, they will need to ease his fall if they don’t want him to rip the party apart.

Donald Trump is looking for a political solution to what increasingly appears to be a serious legal problem.

That’s why Mike Pence hired outside counsel.

He’s smart enough to know that it’s cheaper to pay a good lawyer to keep you out of trouble than it is to pay one to get you out of trouble.

That puts him one up on the president.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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