Pence condemns Capitol violence, vows participants will be prosecuted

Vice President Pence on Wednesday condemned protests inside the U.S. Capitol, which forced him to be evacuated from the Senate chamber earlier in the afternoon, and vowed those involved "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building," Pence tweeted.

"Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he added.

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The tweet marked the vice president's first comments since he was rushed out of the upper chamber after pro-Trump protesters breached the Capitol building. It also marked a stronger denunciation of the violence than President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE had offered as chaos engulfed the complex.

Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify Electoral College votes affirming Joe BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE as the next president. Republican lawmakers in both chambers were expected to object to the results in at least three states in an effort that was not expected to change the result.

The vice president issued a letter earlier Wednesday in which he outlined why he did not believe he had the "unilateral" authority to reject electors or intervene in the electoral count. The statement dealt a final blow to Trump and his supporters, who for several days had insisted falsely that Pence could somehow act to deny Biden's victory.

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Shortly after Pence was evacuated, Trump tweeted that the vice president "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our County and our Constitution."

Just before the session, Trump held a rally at the White House Ellipse where he repeated his unproven claims that the election was "stolen" or "rigged."

In his remarks, he encouraged supporters to march toward the Capitol and urge lawmakers to refrain from certifying Biden as the winner.

But the situation quickly escalated as Trump supporters clashed with police, overwhelming them and forcing their way into the Capitol complex. Images circulated on social media of Capitol Police officers with guns drawn, barricading both chambers of Congress. Lawmakers were evacuated or asked to shelter in place.

Trump has thus far tweeted twice calling for calm, though he has yet to directly condemn the actions of his supporters.

--Updated at 3:59 p.m.