Donald Trump pressured his vice president to agree to an illegal plot to nullify the 2020 US election and stoked a mob that put his deputy’s life in danger when he refused, officials said on Thursday congressional investigators and former administration aides.
The House committee investigating last year’s attack on the United States Capitol has detailed how the former president berated Mike Pence for not agreeing to the scheme the two knew was illegal – even after he learned that violence erupted as Congress gathered to certify Joe Biden’s victory.
In its third public hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, the panel detailed Trump’s “relentless” pressure campaign on Pence – as the cornerstone of a criminal plot to keep the defeated president in power.
“Donald Trump wanted Mike Pence to do something no other vice president ever did: the former president wanted Pence to reject the votes and either declare Trump the winner or send the votes back to the states to be voted on again. counted,” panel chairman Bennie Thompson said. said.
“Mike Pence said no. He resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong.”
Trump attorney John Eastman was the architect of the “absurd” plot, said committee vice chair Liz Cheney, pushing the scheme aggressively despite knowing it was illegal.
The committee showed testimony from Pence’s general counsel, Greg Jacob, saying Eastman admitted to Trump two days before the riot that his plan would violate federal law.
A desperate Trump had turned to Pence for help after dozens of legal challenges to the election were thrown out in courts across the country.
The defeated president used rally speeches and Twitter to exert intense pressure on his deputy to abuse his position as Senate speaker and reject the election results.
Members of Trump’s family were in the Oval Office on Jan. 6 when Trump had a “heated” phone call with Pence, according to deposition by first daughter Ivanka Trump, released during the hearing.
She said Trump took on “a different tone” than she had heard him use before.
Nicholas Luna, a former aide to Trump, recalled in his own deposition, “I remember hearing the word ‘wimp’.”
At his “Stop the Steal” rally later in the day, Trump referenced Pence several times as he told his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
Trump’s original speech didn’t mention Pence, but he improvised to berate his vice president in a move, according to Democratic committee member Pete Aguilar, who helped incite the insurrection and threats against Pence.
But Pence resisted, issuing a letter to Congress saying the vice president had no “unilateral authority” to undo the election count.
Aguilar said an informant for the neofascist Proud Boys told the FBI the group would have killed Pence given the chance.
The California congressman said the crowd that stormed the Capitol came within 40 feet of Pence and that they “were not mistaken that the vice president’s life was at stake.” danger”.
Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told him about the violence that erupted on Capitol Hill, but the president still tweeted that Pence didn’t have the “courage” to void the election, aides told reporters. investigators in videotaped depositions.
Immediately after the tweet, the crowd at the Capitol surged forward, the committee said.
The mob threatened to hang Pence for not cooperating as they stormed the Capitol, even erecting a gallows in front of the building.
“What the former president was willing to sacrifice – potentially the vice president – to stay in power is quite shocking,” Aguilar said.
The panel released a video clip of a rioter saying he would “drag people into the streets” if Pence refused to void the election.
The committee also heard from retired federal judge J Michael Luttig, who said the United States would have been thrust into “a revolution in a crippling constitutional crisis” if Pence had retreated under pressure from Trump.
Luttig, a noted conservative jurist, told Pence at the time that his role in overseeing the ratification of the election was purely ceremonial — and that he had no power to veto the outcome.
“There was no basis in the constitution or the laws of the United States for the theory Mr. Eastman espoused. At all. None,” Luttig said.
Trump reacted to the hearing by demanding he be given ‘equal time’ on the air to air his false theory that the election was stolen – but opponents pointed out he did not accept the invitation of the committee to testify.