Washington: The mob invading the Capitol got within 40 feet of Vice-President Mike Pence as his security team rushed him away on Jan. 6, 2021, and an informant later told the FBI that extremists leading the assault would have killed him given the chance.
Those were among the harrowing new details a House committee investigating the insurrection on Thursday added to accounts of Pence’s ordeal during the riot. The panel rendered a portrait of Donald Trump callously indifferent to the danger his vice president faced throughout the day.
The panel also heard testimony that top White House lawyers believed Trump’s plan to use Pence to block congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election wasn’t legal. Even John Eastman, the author of the strategy, admitted beforehand that the Supreme Court would rule against it “nine-to-nothing,” Pence chief counsel Greg Jacob told the committee.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows already had told Trump that rioters had breached the Capitol before the president sent out a tweet declaring Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done” during a congressional session to count electoral votes, panel member Representative Pete Aguilar said. Rioting surged after the tweet, he added.
“It felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire by tweeting that,” Sarah Matthews, a Trump deputy press secretary who was at the White House during the riot, said in a video excerpt from a deposition the committee aired.
The crowd rampaging through the Capitol chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and erected mock gallows outside the building. Aguilar said a confidential informant told the FBI afterward that members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group whose members were among the first to break into the building, would have killed Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had they reached either of them.
Pence’s Secret Service detail whisked him and his family down back stairways and through hallways to a secure location on the Capitol complex, passing within 40 feet of the crowd, Aguilar said. The vice-president was determined not to leave the Capitol until the election certification was completed and refused instructions from Secret Service agents to shelter inside an armoured car, just to be certain they wouldn’t remove him, Jacob said.
Trump never called to check on Pence’s safety while the vice-president was under siege in the Capitol, Jacob said. Pence and his wife Karen reacted “with frustration” to that, he added.
Pence, a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, was in Cincinnati during the televised hearing to participate in a roundtable on energy with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. He didn’t address the Jan. 6 hearing or take questions from reporters.
Trump posted a message on the social media platform shortly before the hearing: “I DEMAND EQUAL TIME!!!”
Relations between the president and vice-president had grown so tense over Pence’s refusal to overturn the election results that Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, told the panel he decided to warn the head of the vice-president’s Secret Service detail the day before the Jan. 6 congressional session.
“My concern was for the vice-president’s security,” Short said in a video excerpt from a deposition he gave the committee.
Short said he felt that as the disagreement became more public he believed “that the president would lash out in some way.”
Aides and family who gathered in the Oval Office with Trump on the morning of Jan. 6 described a furious final phone call the president made to Pence to implore him to go along with the plan.
Ivanka Trump described her father as “pretty heated” during the call. Nicholas Luna, a White House aide who also was in the room, said Trump called Pence “a wimp.”
Pence, who took the call in private at the vice-president’s mansion, emerged from the conversation, “steely, determined, grim,” Jacob said.
The struggle was over a plan that the president’s own advisers didn’t think was legal, according to testimony.
Meadows told Short, Pence’s chief of staff, that he didn’t agree with the legal strategy, Short said in a video deposition the panel showed, though Short added it was common for Meadows to change his views to ingratiate himself with opposing parties.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone considered the plan “nutty,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said in video testimony. And Trump senior adviser Eric Herschmann called it “completely crazy.”
“Don’t you think Al Gore might have liked to have known in 2000 that he had the authority to declare himself president of the United States?” Jacob said he told Eastman.
In January 2001, Gore oversaw the certification of the election in which he was on top of the ticket. Running against George W. Bush, Gore ultimately conceded the race after losing a legal fight over Florida’s vote.
In the days following the attack on the Capitol, Eastman, the Trump attorney behind the strategy, asked to be considered for a presidential pardon, according to an email displayed at the hearing.
“I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” Eastman wrote in his email to another attorney for Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Eastman was not pardoned.
Eastman, in videotaped testimony given to the committee, asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions that could incriminate him.
Representative Bennie Thompson, the panel’s chairman, told reporters shortly before the hearing that the committee would try to question the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on her involvement in efforts to overturn the election.
Email records for Eastman that the panel recently obtained shows Virginia “Ginni” Thomas was in contact with the attorney and her efforts to prevent Joe Biden from taking office were more extensive than previously known, the Washington Post reported, citing people involved in the probe.
Thomas also sent emails to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Arizona lawmakers encouraging them to help overturn the election, the Post reported.