Jan. 6 panel hesitates in asking Pence to testify
As the select committee plows ahead with hundreds of interviews about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, there’s one figure central to the investigation who’s giving them pause: Mike Pence.
The former vice president is unique in being both an eyewitness to the attack and a target of former President Trump and his supporters that descended on the Capitol.
Members of the committee have made it no mystery that they would love to hear his side of the story, but they’ve hesitated to send a formal invitation even after Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said shortly after the Jan. 6 anniversary that he expected to reach out to Pence “before the month’s out.”
The committee has sent a number of letters seeking voluntary cooperation from witnesses ranging from sitting lawmakers to Trump family members like daughter Ivanka Trump.
But the invite to Pence has lingered in a small committee that prizes agreement among its members.
“We’ve gotten a lot of information about the vice president from many sources so we’ll see … We’re not afraid of following any source, but we don’t want to spin our wheels on something we already know, let me just put it that way,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, told The Hill.
“Every decision has been unanimous in the committee.”
Pence in a Friday speech made by far his most forceful break with his former boss, saying Trump was “wrong” that he had a right to overturn the election — which Pence described as an un-American notion.
“The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone,” he said in the address to the Federalist Society. “Frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”
And the committee this week met with a number of aides to Pence. Greg Jacob, counsel to Pence who opposed plans to have the then-vice president buck his ceremonial duties to certify the election results, met with the committee Tuesday.
Former Pence chief of staff Marc Short testified before the House panel last week, and Keith Kellogg, who served as Pence’s national security adviser, also testified before the panel.
Such interviews would undoubtedly serve as building blocks for the panel in ramping up to a conversation with Pence.
“One has to believe that Vice President Pence has a lot of information that would be of interest to the committee. I mean he fled the Capitol in fear of his life, and he’s aware of a lot of different conversations that are relevant to us,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
“Everybody obviously wants to hear from Vice President Pence about his experience, but the former vice president of the United States is not the first person you call in as a witness. We have tried to fill in as much detail as possible before getting to a lot of the major witnesses,” he told The Hill.
Even for a committee that has asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to speak with them, a formal letter to Pence would be a monumental step.
A formal invitation could jeopardize the status of both for a man many Republicans see as a viable alternative to Trump. Pence is widely seen as positioning himself for a potential run, holding events in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina since leaving office.
But Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) stressed any delay is investigational, not political.
“Through the people that we have talked to we continue to learn more about the vice president’s movements that day as well as the pressure campaign that was emanating from the Oval Office,” he said.
There hasn’t been any political split on the committee, which has just two Republican members, when it comes to approaching Pence, he said.
“I haven’t been part of any conversation that has made me think that’s the motivation — you would be surprised at the members who are hitting the gas and brakes,” Aguilar said.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) echoed the need for consensus.
“The entire committee has been on the same page with regards to the way we are proceeding. So there’s not any sort of split in the approach amongst the members of the committee on any decision point,” she said.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said the committee also needs to be cognizant of the impact its own actions could have within the legislative sphere.
“The attack on Jan. 6 was unprecedented. And the people who were involved were at all levels of government — local, state and federal — and the unprecedented nature of the event has led us to be very careful about how we proceed in the investigation because we are setting precedents. And so we have to be thoughtful about the way that we engage,” Murphy told The Hill.
“But we will be thorough in how we get all the information.”
Thompson’s statement about sending a letter to Pence by the end of January highlighted division within the committee almost immediately.
After his comments on CNN, aides gave competing statements to The Hill, with one saying he was “contemplating” such a deadline and another saying the committee would take a responsible approach and “will address these issues in an appropriate fashion and at an appropriate time.”
Asked by The Hill this week why the committee did not stick with the timeline, Thompson joked the committee hadn’t dawdled much beyond the Jan. 31 date he outlined.
“Well, it was last week,” he said of the deadline. “The end of the month was last week.”
It’s not clear that if invited, Pence would accept. McCarthy and other lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), have rebuffed the committee.
But Raskin said Pence may feel differently than some of his Republican colleagues.
“Everything that I have seen indicates to me that Vice President Pence acted honorably on January the sixth, and he should have every reason to want the truth to come out,” he said.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.