The House committee investigating the events of January 6 aired more findings on Thursday afternoon, bringing into clearer focus how then-Vice President Mike Pence was in danger as the angry mob descended upon the U.S. Capitol.
Recap of Thursday’s Hearings
The third hearing over the last week featured two witnesses who said that they told Trump that Pence did not have the legal authority to do anything to change the results of the 2020 presidential election. The committee used the bulk of Thursday’s time to detail how John Eastman, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump, tried to advocate that Pence had the authority to block the certification of the Electoral College, preventing President-elect Joe Biden from taking office. While this idea was generally rejected by the majority of the lawyers advising Trump, as well as Pence’s team, Trump himself latched onto the plan, putting in motion the events of the day.Read More »
Part of Thursday’s most riveting testimony included a videotaped deposition featuring Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short. During the testimony, Short stated that Pence told Trump multiple times that he did not have the legal authority to interfere with the election results.
According to the U.S. Constitution, the vice president presides over the joint session of Congress during the counting of the electoral votes. Pence was in the process of performing this duty when the rioters stormed into the Capitol building.
The hearings also demonstrated how Eastman admitted to Trump that Pence would be in violation of federal law if he went through with the plan. Some of the most damning evidence came from White House attorney Eric Herschmann. He told the committee that Eastman said that violence may be needed to subvert the 2020 election results.
Testimony from Rioters
The rioters themselves took center stage at Thursday’s hearings, delivering some of the most compelling evidence. Video clips featuring the rioters showed how Trump’s tweets of that day encouraged the mob to move from the rally on the National Mall toward the Capitol.
It was clear that the committee was using this testimony to attempt to draw a connection between Trump’s words and actions and the behavior of those people who stormed the steps of the Capitol. While Republican leaders have generally tried to shift the blame from Trump to fringe right-wing groups, the committee is aiming to connect the former president to the violence that ensued on that day. A taped deposition from deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews detailed how a tweet from Trump that afternoon added more fuel to the fire.
Pence Was in Imminent Danger
It was also revealed just how close the vice president came to experiencing a direct threat to his life. The committee revealed that the angry mob at the Capitol surged within 40 feet of Pence. The rioters repeatedly chanted that they were going to hang the vice president, angry that he did not make the decision to illegally overturn the results of the election.
New images of Pence and his team were also released during Thursday’s hearings, showing the group sheltering in a bunker in the basement of the Capital complex. The committee detailed how the vice president’s wife, Karen Pence, was frustrated that the president never bothered to check on their safety.
The testimony reaffirmed that the relationship between Trump and Pence was not in a good place on that day as a result of the vice president refusing to go along with the plan to not certify the election. Trump’s public remarks about Pence’s hesitance to go along with his plan stirred up the president’s supporters and encouraged violence that day, according to the committee.
Elephant Not in the Room
The elephant not in the room on Thursday was Pence himself. Rather than using direct testimony from Pence, the committee used a mix of live witness reports from the two former advisers of the vice president at the time. When asked by reporters if Pence would ever appear to testify during the upcoming hearings, committee aides dodged the question and did not give a concrete answer.
Another piece of incriminating evidence levied against Eastman was the revelation that the Trump attorney emailed Rudy Giuliani a few days after the events of January 6, asking to be on a list of potential presidential pardons. While Eastman did not receive the pardon and did not directly address the committee’s questions about his involvement in trying to overturn the election, the committee argued that this was an admission that his actions may have been illegal. Rather than answering the committee’s about his role in the day’s events, Eastman pleaded the Fifth during the deposition. Giuliani was one of Trump’s most trusted advisers during this time period.
Clear and Present Danger to Democracy
One last takeaway of the day’s testimony is that some of the most conservative political leaders are recognizing that democracy was in danger that day at the U.S. Capitol. While one would expect Democrat leaders to paint Trump in a poor light, testimony from conservatives such as retired judge J. Michael Luttig showed that individuals on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the fragility of the democracy.
Luttig said on record that Trump is a “clear and present danger to American democracy.” The committee responded by saying that they will propose new legislation designed to safeguard election laws by eliminating the loopholes that Trump and his team tried to find to prevent the typical peaceful transition of power.
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