PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday took to social media to criticize a USA TODAY Sports report as “#FAKENEWS” that U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon rebuffed a request that his office set up a conversation between the two men.
At about the same time as Pence took to Twitter, a White House official was explaining to reporters traveling with the vice president to South Korea that Pence's team did contact the U.S. Olympic Committee. But the vice president's office was offering— not requesting — a meeting with Rippon and wanted to give the skater as much space as possible. The official declined to be identified.
MORE: Who is Adam Rippon?
Columnist Christine Brennan reported on Wednesday that Pence had become so concerned about criticism he faced from Rippon, an openly gay athlete, that his staff reached out to the USOC to set up a conversation between the two.
Rippon turned the offer down, two people with knowledge of the proposed conversation told USA TODAY Sports. After the column was published Wednesday, Pence’s deputy chief of staff Jarrod Agen insisted no effort was made by the Vice President’s office to set up a conversation.
“Headed to the Olympics to cheer on #TeamUSA. One reporter trying to distort 18 yr old nonstory to sow seeds of division. We won’t let that happen! #FAKENEWS. Our athletes are the best in the world and we are for ALL of them! #TEAMUSA,” Pence posted on Twitter.
In a second tweet directed at Rippon, Pence writes “I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you.”
The kerfuffle started in January when Brennan reported that the figure skater slammed Pence when she asked him what he thought about the vice president being selected to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it,” Rippon responded.
Around the same time that Pence sent out his two tweets over the reports about his spat with Rippon, a White House official confirmed that the vice president's chief of staff Nick Ayers called U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun after Rippon had initially criticized Pence last month.
Rippon’s criticism of Pence was over language on a campaign website that some LGBT activists say shows that as a congressman the vice president had supported gay conversion therapy.
Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website included the suggestion that “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Ayers told Blackmun the criticism of Pence was untrue and that he never supported gay conversion therapy, the White House official told reporters. When the issue surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign, Pence's then-press secretary, Marc Lotter, also denied that Pence supported the policy.
Ayers offered to have someone from the vice president's team explain to Rippon the confusion over Pence's stance. Ayers also said that Pence would meet with Rippon or speak with him over the phone if he preferred, the White House official said.