WASHINGTON — As dozens of House members in charge of the impeachment investigations sit in on closed-door depositions about Ukraine, at least one person in the room has unusually close ties to President Donald Trump’s administration — Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother, Rep. Greg Pence.
The first-term member of Congress sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of three House committees leading the impeachment investigation (along with the House Intelligence and Oversight committees). He was assigned to the committee earlier this year by members of the Republican House Steering and Policy committees, long before the impeachment inquiry began.
Pence has had access to all the closed-door testimonies of officials speaking on Trump’s actions, US–Ukraine relations, and the controversial phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, which sparked the official impeachment investigation.
When asked if Pence should recuse himself because of his relationship with the vice president, Rep. Adam Schiff’s office deferred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which then declined to comment. Several Democratic lawmakers told BuzzFeed News they didn’t realize the representative served on the committee.
Rep. Pence's office did not respond to questions for this article.
Experts on impeachment say they don’t see his presence on the committee as a potential conflict of interest.
“I have not heard of such a potential conflict of interest, nor do I think it would be a conflict of interest, because the oath of a member of Congress would probably be enough to say they need to weigh the evidence independently,” said David Priess, the chief operating officer of Lawfare, a national security blog that has written extensively about impeachment issues.
Priess went on to say it would be more likely an issue should the impeachment process reach the Senate and there is a familial conflict.
“The Senate is when there is actually a trial," Priess said, "whereas the impeachment process is more like a grand jury indictment when all of those issues that are being raised about fairness and due process … that comes in the trial. That’s not related to the initial investigation.”
Pence has flown under the radar on the impeachment front. The first-term Republican hasn’t said much publicly about the topic; he spoke out when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would move forward with the impeachment investigation, condemning Democrats by calling the process a “partisan power grab” in a tweet. “It seems their #ImpeachmentAgenda is more important than the American people,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Pence and the 20 other Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter demanding all members sitting in on impeachment depositions receive copies of transcripts of the closed-door interviews. (Currently, members can only access the transcripts in the Intelligence Committee offices.)
“It is outrageous and unjustifiable to deny us those basic documents, which are critical to our ability to meaningfully prepare for and participate in this investigation,” the letter read. “We require the same access to the same documents in the same format, as is enjoyed by you and your staff.”
Aside from Schiff, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, no other committee members have unsupervised access to transcripts, according to the letter. Members of Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees can view documents at the Intelligence Committee’s office during designated times.
Pence, 62, won Indiana’s 6th Congressional District seat in 2018 after former Republican representative Luke Messer vacated the seat to run for Senate (a race that he lost in the primary). Pence bested four candidates with 65% of the vote in the primary and sailed through the general in the Republican-voting district. Mike Pence represented the same district for more than a decade before becoming the state’s governor and the United States vice president. The district has voted Republican consistently for more than three decades.
Greg Pence came under fire immediately following his campaign when he spent $7,600 in campaign funds at the Trump International Hotel in the first few months after his election, although Congress members are supposed to pay for their own living accommodations in DC. Pence’s team later changed the filings to say the money went to “fundraising event costs,” which is allowed under campaign finance laws.
Pence normally votes in lockstep with his Republican colleagues in Congress. However, this month he doubled down on his support for the president and sided with a minority of Republicans who voted against the resolution to oppose Trump’s decision to remove troops from Syria. A wide bipartisan group supported the resolution last week; 127 Republicans and 225 Democrats voted to formally oppose Trump on the issue.