In short, if Pence believes the allegations are true, he’s unwilling to say it. Or else Pence recognizes that the accusation is unfounded, and sees little upside in antagonizing the intelligence community and signing on to what looks at the moment like a conspiracy theory.
Pence isn’t the only tight-lipped member of Trump administration. Since Trump’s outburst on Twitter on Saturday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer has tried to sidestep the matter time and again. On Sunday, the White House issued a statement saying that “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted,” as though Trump himself had not opened the can of worms and set it out on the counter.
On Monday, during an off-camera press briefing, he told reporters, “I'm just going to let the tweet speak for itself.” This is a puzzling response for a couple of reasons. The first is that the tweets don’t remotely speak for themselves: They lodge an extremely serious accusation without any semblance of evidence or even explanation for how Trump “just found out” about the alleged wiretapping. The second is that it is literally Spicer’s job to speak for the president.
On Tuesday, reporters tried again, and Spicer again pointed to the statement saying the White House would not comment. They asked why, if the president had evidence of a wiretap, he couldn’t just say so, to which Spicer offered a hand-waving claim that it would violate separation of powers, though he did not explain why the executive branch disclosing information about the executive branch would be a violation. Eventually, reporters asked Spicer whether he himself believed Obama had ordered a wiretap, a question he also declined to answer.
The reaction to Trump’s accusation followed an interesting arc. The first wave was, Look at the latest craziest thing the president has said! The second wave went something like, Well, but actually ... The Obama years showed the vast amounts of data intelligence agencies were sweeping up. Even if Obama did not order a wiretap on Trump, it’s possible that Trump could have been swept up in an investigation of contacts between his team and the Russian government. Analysts parsed denials by various Obama and intelligence officials, looking for ways their answers might leave loopholes. The fact that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who appears to have misled Congress and the public about spying, was one of those making the denials made them ripe for nitpicking.
But on Wednesday, Spicer threw cold water on many of those ideas, saying both that “there is no reason to believe that [Trump] is the target of any investigation” and that “there is no reason to believe that there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice.”
As Mark Landler of The New York Times summed it up, these denials create a tricky choice: “Either the president’s assertions are baseless, or he may have implicated himself in a government investigation of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russia.” There is, one supposes, a third, highly unlikely scenario, which is that Obama has a private team of spies, a la the Watergate plumbers, conducting wiretaps on his personal behalf, something Trump suggested by tweeting, “This is Nixon/Watergate.” But no one has offered any evidence of that, either.