When Vice President Mike Pence abruptly canceled a trip this month to New Hampshire to discuss the opioid epidemic, White House officials steadfastly refused to say why.
The answer emerged on Monday, when it was revealed that a former New York Giants player who was expected to greet Mr. Pence at the airport in New Hampshire had pleaded guilty last week to trafficking fentanyl across state lines.
The man, Jeff Hatch, had worked at the Granite Recovery Center, which Mr. Pence was to visit on July 2. But the vice president’s aides canceled the trip after learning that Mr. Hatch was under federal investigation for drug trafficking, people briefed on the events said.
People familiar with what took place said that Mr. Hatch’s inclusion in the event was not a vetting failure — the investigation was not something that an advance check of the attendees would have uncovered. Instead, the people said, the vice president’s staff learned of the looming problem through law enforcement channels.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Pence declined to comment. The details of the canceled trip were first reported Monday by Politico.
Mr. Hatch, who has spoken publicly about his struggles with addiction, entered a guilty plea on Friday, according to court papers.
The trip was called off after Mr. Pence was already aboard Air Force Two at Joint Base Andrews, near Washington, with his staff in tow. He was back at the White House a short time later.
Speculation ran wild on Twitter that something serious had prompted the cancellation, and Mr. Pence’s aides did not clear up the confusion. His chief of staff, Marc Short, would say only that the reason would become clear in a few weeks.
Mr. Pence’s spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah, posted on Twitter that day: “The @VP never left Washington, DC. There was no ‘emergency callback.’ Something came up that required the VP to stay in DC. We’ll reschedule NH shortly.”
Three days later, Mr. Trump further fueled the mystery.
“You’ll know in about two weeks,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire.”
What kind of problem, a reporter asked.
“I can’t tell you about it,” Mr. Trump said, adding that “it had nothing to do with White House.”
“There was a problem up there,” he continued, “and I won’t go into what the problem was, but you’ll see in a week or two.”