Unlike some other members of the Trump administration and 2016 campaign staff, Vice President Mike Pence has remained relatively unscathed by accusations of inappropriate Russian contacts. However, an Internet rumor linking one of his brothers to a company that does business in Russia alleges that Pence, too, has questionable Russian ties.
We first encountered the rumor in late 2017, when several readers e-mailed us queries posing questions such as: "Does Mike Pence's brother make engines for the Russian military? And did said company hire Paul Manafort's consulting firm? Thus, is there any merit to the claim that Paul Manafort helped pick Mike Pence as a running mate and it would profit them (Pence family) greatly if Russian sanctions were lifted?"
The timing of the queries coincided with an eruption of social media posts raising precisely the same issues:
— Sherry (@SherryGramjams) November 11, 2017
— ????Alexander Hamilton?: #WagTheDog (@AHamiltonSpirit) October 9, 2017
Many such posts linked to a 21 June 2017 article on the Mining Awareness blog that explored the relationships between Mike Pence, Cummins Inc. (an engine manufacturing company which is headquartered in Pence's hometown of Columbus, Indiana, and at which his brother, Ed Pence, served as a top executive for years), and Russia.
Cummins has participated in joint ventures with Russian companies going back to the early 1990s. In 2006, for example, Cummins signed an agreement with KAMAZ, a truck manufacturer in which the Russian government is a major stakeholder, to form the joint venture Cummins-Kama. And Cummins did, for a period of time, make engines for use in Russian tanks (specifically the "Tigr" armored vehicle). According to the Russian-language news web site Lenta.ru, it ceased doing so in 2016, however, when the tank's main manufacturer decided to use Russian-made engines instead.
The article noted that Cummins's Russian business interests could render the company's bottom line vulnerable to U.S. sanctions and thus, by virtue of his family and hometown connections to Cummins, predispose Mike Pence to show favoritism toward Russia. It went on to suggest that this was the "probable reason" that Pence, who headed Trump's transition team in 2016, ignored credible warnings about Michael Flynn's conflicts of interest vis-a-vis Russia and hired him as national security adviser anyway (and eventually Flynn resigned after it was made public that he had misled Pence about his contacts with Russia):
VP Pence’s brother Ed appears deeply dependent upon Russia for some time — from 2005 as VP and General Manager of the Heavy Duty Engine Business of Cummins and starting in Feb 1, 2013 as VP and General Manager of the High Horsepower Engine Business of Cummins. Pence became Governor of Indiana in Jan. 2013. Cummins VP Pence appears the probable reason that U.S. VP Pence ignored Congressman Cummings warnings about Flynn and Russia. It provides motive.
Besides being purely speculative, the article failed to establish any deep Pence-Russia connection, however. It was so fixated on Russia, in fact, that it completely overlooked the bigger picture comprising Cummins's vast and varied international business dealings. As of 2015, according to Fortune, the company was operating in no fewer than 90 countries worldwide. During Ed Pence's tenure as a Cummins executive, it launched joint ventures not just in Russia, but also in India, China, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, and elsewhere. If there is a compelling reason to suppose that Pence's fortunes were more "deeply dependent" on Russia than any of those other countries, it went unstated.
We should also note that as of December 2017, Ed Pence no longer works at Cummins Inc. His departure was announced in a 7 December press release congratulating Pence on his retirement after having been with the company for 36 years. For most of that time he worked in the purchasing and sales departments.
The supposed link between Ed Pence and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is equally tenuous. As a number of sources have pointed out, Cummins Inc. has long used lobbying firms with which Manafort was distantly associated — beginning in 1999 with BKSH & Associates (formerly known as BMSK, or Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly) and continuing from 2009 to the present with Prime Policy Group (a spin-off of BKSH & Associates) — but Manafort was neither a partner in, nor employed by, those firms during that period of time. And although at least one of his former partners (Charles Black) has been identified by name as a lobbyist for Cummins over the years, Paul Manafort himself has not.
According to mainstream news coverage, Paul Manafort did play a role, during his brief tenure as Trump's campaign manager, in convincing the candidate to select Mike Pence as his running mate. CBS News reported this version of events:
First reported by the New York Post, an indecisive Trump had initially decided on Christie after the New Jersey governor made his final case to Trump on July 12.
Christie, the first former presidential candidate to get behind Trump after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary, had assumed a high profile role on the campaign prior to the Convention — reaching out to donors and potential high profile supporters.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, allegedly had another idea in mind.
Manafort had arranged for Trump to meet with his first choice for the job on July 13: Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Afterwards, the plans was for Trump and Pence to then fly back to New York together and a formal announcement would be made, a campaign source said of Manafort’s thinking.
What had previously been reported as a “lucky break” by the New York Times was actually a swift political maneuver devised by the now fired campaign manager. Set on changing Trump’s mind, he concocted a story that Trump’s plane had mechanical problems, forcing the soon-to-be Republican nominee to stay the night in Indianapolis for breakfast with the Pence family.
Swayed by Pence’s aggressive pitch, Trump agreed to ditch Christie and make Pence his VP the following day, according to a source.
On the face of it, though, there seems little reason to suppose that Manafort's boosterism and Trump's ultimate decision to choose Pence as his running mate had much, if anything, to do with Russia. As the New York Times put it, choosing Pence — a D.C. insider "with unimpeachable conservative credentials, warm relationships in Washington and a vast reservoir of good will with the Christian right" — was more "a concession to standard political imperatives" for a candidate who ran as the quintessential outsider.
If Vice President Pence had any deep, compromising ties with Russia, they have yet to be proved real.