Jan. 6 probe threatens fragile Trump-Pence peace
The investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol poses a serious threat to the tenuous relationship between former President Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.
The House panel probing the riot is said to be interested in speaking with multiple members of Pence’s circle about how events unfolded as the then-vice president was whisked to safety in the Capitol while Trump supporters stormed the building, calling for him to be hanged.
Many ex-Trump officials have refused to cooperate with the committee in any capacity as the former president rails against it, but lawmakers may find more willing witnesses among members of Pence’s team, particularly as Trump continues to dismiss the threats on Jan. 6.
Trump for days leading up to the riot pressured Pence publicly to reject electors from certain states, and the former president tweeted as the riots were taking place that Pence “didn’t have the courage” to reject electors for President Biden from certain swing states.
In audio released Friday, Trump told ABC News correspondent Jon Karl in an interview for an upcoming book that his supporters were right to be angry with Pence, offering no condemnation of the death threats against his former vice president.
Asked if he was worried for Pence’s safety as his supporters were running through Congress trying to halt the certification of the 2020 election results, Trump said he was not.
“The people were very angry,” Trump said, at which point Karl noted some were shouting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
“Because it’s common sense, Jon. It’s common sense that you’re supposed to protect. How can you — if you know a vote is fraudulent, right? — how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress? How can you do that?” he asked, reasserting his debunked and court-rejected claims that the election was fraudulent in certain states.
A spokesperson for Pence declined to comment on Trump’s latest comments about Jan. 6 or whether it may make Pence’s former aides more likely to cooperate with the House investigation.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is leading the Jan. 6 House committee, told CNN last week that the panel had reached out to some Pence aides and gotten a mixed reception in terms of willingness to cooperate.
Among those reportedly of interest to the committee include former Pence chief of staff Marc Short, former political adviser Marty Obst and former chief counsel Greg Jacob.
The committee has already subpoenaed former Pence national security adviser Keith Kellogg, though he is viewed as a Trump ally and serves as a co-chair on security issues at the Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute.
But should other Pence allies speak with the committee, they could have potentially damaging information to share about Trump’s conduct in the days leading up to the insurrection and during the riots.
Potentially further incentivizing cooperation, the committee has shown it is willing to enforce its requests for depositions. A federal jury indicted former Trump White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon on Friday after he failed to comply with a subpoena from the panel.
“Steve Bannon’s indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law. We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need,” Thompson and panel Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.
Sources previously told The Hill that Trump had met with Pence in the days before the insurrection to speak about the potential of rejecting the slate of electors from certain states, something Pence ultimately determined he did not have the authority to do. Trump did not reach out to Pence during the insurrection itself, and the two men did not speak for days after the insurrection, sources said.
“There was obvious frustration just over the last couple weeks of the administration about his treatment toward Pence because I think everyone would say that Pence had been the most loyal person to Trump, above everyone else,” said one former Trump White House official who said the president’s tweet attacking Pence amid the Jan. 6 violence helped spur some in the administration to resign.
Pence, in his public comments since the insurrection, has walked a careful line to distance himself from the day’s events without outright criticizing his former boss.
“You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day,” he said in June, a line he has repeated multiple times since.
In a Fox News interview last month, Pence went as far as to blame the media for using the events of Jan. 6 to gloss over difficulties the Biden administration has had on the economy and foreign policy. That statement earned praise from Trump.
The split between the two men over Jan. 6 has been one of the most notable features of their relationship, which was otherwise defined by Pence’s unflinching loyalty.
And it could be a major factor in the 2024 race, should either or both of them decide to seek the White House.
Trump has engaged in an ongoing campaign to portray the insurrection as a mere “protest” against his unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the election. Some GOP lawmakers have also started to gloss over the violence of the day, and Trump’s latest comments downplaying the threats against Pence will likely only further serve to inflame his base.
“I think he’s got a near-impossible path forward for getting the nomination,” one GOP strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said of Pence. “I think he has to appeal to the Trump wing or the Trump base of the party because they’re rabid, and without them he can’t proceed forward.”