Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday offered his strongest-yet criticism of former president Donald Trump’s push to reverse the results of his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden in remarks to the Federalist Society’s annual conference.
“President Trump is wrong,” Mr Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election”.
The former Vice President, who Mr Trump claimed had the power to unilaterally reject their loss to Mr Biden and Kamala Harris, said the US presidency “belongs to the American people, and the American people alone”.
He added that in his estimation, there was “no more un-American” an idea than Mr Trump’s theory that the Vice President could, in effect, “choose the American president”.
That theory, the product of what legal experts describe as shoddy scholarship and purposeful misinterpretations of precedents set by former Vice Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon, posited that Mr Pence had the unilateral power to decide whether electoral votes from a given state were valid when he chaired the 6 January 2021 joint session at which Congress was to count the electoral college votes that had been cast in each state capitol and delivered to the national archives.
But in the days and weeks following his loss to Mr Biden, Mr Trump’s inner circle became so enamoured of the idea that Mr Pence could decide the election that several attorneys — including former Chapman University law professor John Eastman and Trump campaign adviser Jenna Ellis — prepared memoranda explaining to Mr Trump and Mr Pence how such a plan could unfold.
Mr Pence, however, rejected the idea after consulting with his then-counsel, Greg Jacob, and a number of other advisers including former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Despite having been informed of Mr Pence’s decision, Mr Trump kept mentioning the fringe theory, including during the speech he gave to a packed crowd at the Ellipse on 6 January, just before a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol.
Shortly after Mr Pence’s office release a letter announcing his decision to allow certification of Mr Biden’s win to go forward, the crowd at the Capitol surged, changing “hang Mike Pence!” over and over, making it into the Capitol and forcing Mr Pence’s secret service detail to spirit him away to a secure location.
The former Vice President’s rebuke of the former president comes just after two of his top aides, former chief of staff Marc Short and Mr Jacob, his former counsel, testified before the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
The nine-member panel, which is set to receive a large tranche of records from Mr Pence’s former White House office from the National Archives and Records Administration, is investigating the efforts by Mr Trump and several of his top lieutenants to browbeat Mr Pence into declaring enough vote certificates from swing states in dispute to throw the selection of the president to the House of Representatives.
Though several of Mr Pence’s former aides have appeared before the panel, others close to Mr Trump have chosen to heed his calls to defy the authority of what the former president has taken to calling the “unselect committee”.
One ex-Trump White House aide, ex-Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon, is now facing a criminal contempt of Congress trial in July after being cited for contempt by the House of Representatives. Another, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, could also be subject to such an indictment if the Justice Department presents the House’s referral of their former colleague to a grand jury.
The participation of Mr Pence’s former advisers raises the possibility that the former Vice President could be called as a witness when the select committee begins public hearings this spring.
Mr Pence has not been subpoenaed by the committee, but the panel’s chairman, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, has said that he may be asked to appear voluntarily.
It is unlikely that Mr Pence would comply, however, as resistance to the Democrat-led panel has become the de facto policy of the Republican Party, which on Friday formally censured GOP Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the Capitol riot inquiry.
Not demonstrating sufficient contempt for the investigation could hurt Mr Pence with the GOP base should he, as expected, mount his own campaign for the presidency in 2024.