Trump lawyers say former president did not know Pence was in danger at the Capitol

Michael van der Veen
New York Times/Pool
Former President Trump’s defense team on Friday denied that Trump knew then-Vice President Mike Pence was in danger during the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

“The answer is no,” Michael van der Veen said flatly on the Senate floor. “At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger.”

The remarks came in response to a question from two Republican senators, Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine), who had broken with most in their party earlier in the week in supporting the trial’s constitutionality. 

The question of what Trump knew about the severity of the attack — and when he knew it — has emerged as a major issue in the Senate trial, where Democrats have accused Trump of provoking last month’s attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Pence had become a target of the mob after he’d refused Trump’s entreaties to reject the Electoral College results, which formalized Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

At 2:24 p.m. on Jan. 6, Trump tweeted at Pence, pressing him to find the “courage” to reject the election outcome — a power the vice president does not possess.

That tweet came roughly 10 minutes after Secret Service agents had whisked Pence from the Senate floor, fearing for his safety after the rioters had breached the building.

That timeline has raised plenty of questions from senators, including some Republicans, about whether Trump knew of Pence’s predicament at the time of the tweet, but chose to ignore it.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) added to the timeline intrigue this week when he revealed that he had spoken with Trump around that same time, and told him that Pence had been evacuated for his safety.

Part of the Democrats’ impeachment case hinges on the argument that Trump did nothing to defuse the attack until hours after it had begun.

“We know that he did not send any individuals. We did not hear any tweets, we did not hear him tell those individuals: ‘Stop. This is wrong. You must go back,'” Del. Stacy Plaskett (D-V.I.), an impeachment manager, told senators on Friday.

“They were doing what he asked them to do,” she added, “so there was no need for him to stop them.”

Trump’s attorney, van der Veen, rejected those charges, shifting the blame back on the Democrats for rushing their impeachment case in such a way that the precise details of what Trump knew could not be known in time for the trial.

“Because the House rushed through this impeachment in seven days with no evidence, there is nothing at all in the record on this point, because the House failed to do even a minimum amount of due diligence,” van der Veen said.

“What the president did know is that there was a violent … riot happening at the Capitol,” he continued. “That’s why he repeatedly called via tweet and via video for the rioters to stop, to be peaceful, to respect Capitol Police and law enforcement, and to commit no violence and to go home.”

After responding to the question, van der Veen added that it wasn’t relevant to the case since the Democrats’ impeachment article contains just one charge: incitement of insurrection.

“This is not an article of impeachment for anything else. It’s a one-count,” he said. “So that the question, although answered directly no, it’s not really relevant to the charges for the impeachment in this case.”

Tags Donald Trump Impeachment insurrection Joe Biden Michael van der Veen Mike Pence Mitt Romney senate impeachment trial Susan Collins Trump legal team
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