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July 23, 2017

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US Vice President Pence avoids political fray surrounding him

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has stepped gingerly through the chaos engulfing the White House — offering loyalty to his boss, while trying to avoid the spreading stain of scandal.

It hasn't been easy, and it's getting harder by the day.

While some conservatives view Pence as a calming force in an administration mired in turmoil, Democrats are eager to tie him to President Donald Trump's vulnerabilities. The appointment of a special counsel to probe ties between Russia and Trump's campaign and associates has turned up the heat for everyone in Trump's orbit.

And there are fresh questions about how much Pence knew as head of Trump's transition team. The vice president was under new scrutiny Thursday after reports that former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn in January alerted the transition team about a Justice Department inquiry into whether he was secretly working as a foreign lobbyist for Turkish interests. The White House has said Flynn was fired in February for lying to Pence about his contacts with Russia's ambassador.

An administration official said Thursday that Pence knew nothing about Flynn's activities at the time and referred to the vice president's comments in a Fox News interview in March in which Pence said, "Hearing that story today was the first I heard of it." Democrats said that strained credibility.

"Pence was the head of the transition team that tapped Flynn for national security adviser. That is not good," said Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List, a Democratic group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights.

Unlike his boss, who has raged in tweets and speeches, Pence has been careful in his comments about the multiple probes into the campaign's contacts with Russia.

In the wake of Trump's abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, Pence has been circumspect. He has not publicly commented on the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as the special counsel investigating the allegations, and he only obliquely referred to the tumult surrounding the administration in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

"Whatever Washington, D.C., may be focused on at any given time, rest assured, President Donald Trump will never stop fighting for the issues that matter most to the American people," he said.

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