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Pence provides grand jury testimony

He’s kept 5 hours with Jan. 6 panel by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | April 28, 2023 at 4:34 a.m.
Then-Vice President Mike Pence officiates as a joint session of the House and Senate convenes at the Capitol in Washington in this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo. Lawmakers were meeting to confirm the Electoral College votes cast in the November 2020 presidential election. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)

Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared Thursday before the grand jury hearing evidence about former President Donald Trump's efforts to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election, a person briefed on the matter said, testifying in a criminal inquiry poised to shape the legal and political fate of his one-time boss and possible 2024 rival.

Pence spent more than five hours behind closed doors at the U.S. District Court in Washington in an appearance that came after he was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury earlier this year.

As the target of an intense pressure campaign in the final days of 2020 and early 2021 by Trump to convince him to play a critical role in blocking or delaying congressional certification of Joe Biden's victory, Pence is considered a key witness in the investigation.

Pence, who is expected to decide soon about whether to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, rebuffed Trump's demands that he use his role as president of the Senate in the certification of the Electoral College results to derail the final step in affirming Biden's victory.

Pence's advisers had discussions with Justice Department officials last year about providing testimony in their criminal investigation into whether Trump and a number of his allies broke federal law in trying to keep Trump in power. But the talks broke down, leading prosecutors to seek a subpoena for Pence's testimony.

Both Pence and Trump tried to fight the subpoena, with the former vice president claiming it violated the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution given his role overseeing the election results certification on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump claiming their discussions were covered by executive privilege.

Trump's efforts to prevent testimony based on executive privilege claims were rebuffed by the courts. Pence partially won in his effort to forestall or limit his testimony; the chief judge overseeing the grand jury ruled that he would not have to discuss matters connected to his role as president of the Senate on Jan. 6, but that he would have to testify to any potential criminality by Trump.

A federal appeals court Wednesday night rejected an emergency attempt by Trump to stop Pence's testimony, allowing the testimony to go forward Thursday.

"We'll obey the law, we'll tell the truth," Pence said in an interview with CBS News' "Face the Nation" that aired Sunday. "And the story that I've been telling the American people all across the country, the story that I wrote in the pages of my memoir, that'll be the story I tell in that setting."

Pence's legal team had discussed potentially limited cooperation, arguing that while acting as president of the Senate during his time in office, he is entitled to congressional immunity under the Constitution's "speech or debate clause," and cannot be compelled to testify about matters related to his presiding over Congress.

However, Pence has said publicly that he is not asserting executive privilege, which could span other discussions including his conversations with Trump and other top White House advisers, and matters not directly related to his constitutionally mandated Senate role.

Attorneys for Trump challenged the Pence subpoena on executive privilege grounds to preserve the confidentiality of presidential decision-making. But after hearing from attorneys for Trump, Pence and the special counsel's office at a closed-door proceedings held March 23, Chief U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said the former vice president could be compelled to testify about any potentially illegal acts committed by the former president, said people familiar with the process, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy rules that generally apply to all but witnesses.

"I'm pleased that the court accepted our argument and recognized that the Constitution's provision about speech and debate does apply to the vice president," Pence said during a March 28 appearance on Newsmax.


Trump's effort to hold onto the presidency after his defeat at the polls -- and how it led to the assault on the Capitol -- is the focus of one of the two federal criminal investigations being overseen by Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland. Smith is also managing the parallel investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.

Smith has gathered evidence about a wide range of activities by Trump and his allies following Election Day in 2020. They include a plan to assemble slates of alternate electors from a number of swing states who could be put forward by Trump as he disputed the Electoral College results. They also encompass an examination of whether Trump defrauded donors by soliciting contributions to fight election fraud despite having been repeatedly told that there was no evidence that the election had been stolen from him.

A district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, Fani T. Willis, has also been gathering evidence about whether Trump engaged in a conspiracy to overturn the election results in that state, and has signaled that she will announce any indictments this summer.

Pence's unwillingness to go along with Trump's plan to block or delay certification of the electoral outcome infuriated Trump, who assailed his vice president privately and publicly on Jan. 6.

Pence subsequently became a target of the pro-Trump mob that swamped the Capitol building that day, with some chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" as they moved through the complex. Someone brought a fake gallows that stood outside the building.

It is not clear what testimony Pence provided Thursday. But prosecutors were surely interested in Pence's accounts of his interactions with Trump and Trump advisers including John Eastman, a lawyer who promoted the idea that they could use the congressional certification process on Jan. 6 to give Trump a chance to remain in office.

That plan relied on Pence using his role as president of the Senate to hold up the process. But Pence's top lawyer and outside advisers concluded that the vice president did not have the legal authority to do so.

Pence has spoken extensively about Trump's pressure campaign urging him to reject Democrat Joe Biden's presidential election victory in the days leading up to Jan. 6, including in his book, "So Help Me God." Pence, as vice president, had a ceremonial role overseeing Congress' counting of the Electoral College vote but did not have the power to affect the results, despite Trump's contention otherwise.

Pence, a former Indiana governor and congressman, has said that Trump endangered his family and everyone else who was at the Capitol that day and history will hold him "accountable."

"For four years, we had a close working relationship. It did not end well," Pence wrote, summing up their time in the White House.

Pence described in the book how Trump worked with Eastman to pressure him into doing something that the vice president was clear that he could not and would not do. He wrote that on the morning of Jan. 6, Trump tried to bludgeon him again on a phone call.

"You'll go down as a wimp," the president told the vice president. "If you do that, I made a big mistake five years ago!"

Many of his close advisers as vice president, including chief of staff Marc Short and chief counsel Greg Jacob, have relayed their experiences to the Justice Department and appeared before the grand jury. Jacob told the House committee, for example, that Trump attorney John Eastman acknowledged to him that efforts to get Pence to block Biden's electoral college victory would violate the Electoral Count Act, and that Trump was informed it would be unlawful.

While Pence has called Trump's rhetoric that day "reckless" and said his actions endangered everyone at the Capitol, including Pence's family members trapped with him there, he has publicly downplayed the idea he saw criminal conduct.

"Well, I don't know if it is criminal to listen to bad advice from lawyers," Pence told NBC's "Meet the Press" last year. "The truth is, what the president was repeating is what he was hearing from that gaggle of attorneys around him. Presidents, just like all of us that have served in public life, you have to rely on your team, you have to rely on the credibility of the people around you. And so, as time goes on, I hope we can move beyond this, beyond that prospect. And this is really a time when our country ought to be healing."

Information for this article was contributed by Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman, Lindsay Whitehurst, Nathan Ellgren and Michelle L. Price of The Associated Press and by Spencer S. Hsu, Jacqueline Alemany, Rachel Weiner and Omari Daniels of The Washington Post.

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