Trump Repeatedly Implored Pence to Upend 2020 Election Outcome, Witnesses Testify

The panel of House lawmakers investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year heard testimony Thursday that former President Donald Trump repeatedly pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart Congress from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.          

Pence was presiding over Congress as lawmakers were in the initial stages of the state-by-state count of Electoral College votes to verify Biden’s victory when about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to disrupt the proceeding.        

Trump, in private and publicly at a rally near the White House just before Congress convened, implored Pence to reject the electoral count from states where Biden narrowly won and send the results back to the states so that Republican-controlled legislatures could order another election or submit the names of Trump electors to replace those favoring Biden.   

Watch the hearing:


Pence counsel Greg Jacob described how a conservative Trump lawyer, John Eastman, tried to convince Pence that he had the legal authority to unilaterally upend the election. But Jacob said Eastman eventually conceded that the U.S. Supreme Court would likely unanimously reject his legal theory.  

Eastman, who refused to answer about 100 questions when he testified before the committee for fear of incriminating himself, later sought a pardon from Trump but did not receive one.   

Jacob said, “The vice president never budged from his first position that no one person had the authority to overturn the election.”         

Pence, a Trump loyalist during their four years in the White House, refused Trump’s demands, saying his role was limited by the Constitution to simply open the envelopes containing the Electoral College vote counts from each state.     

As the rioters stormed the Capitol and threatened Pence’s life, Jacob said Pence was moved by his Secret Service detail to a secure location in the Capitol at an underground loading dock where he stayed for 4½ hours.   

But Pence refused, Jacob said, to get into a car because he feared the Secret Service would drive him out of the building. Jacob said Pence “didn’t want to give the rioters the satisfaction of seeing him flee the Capitol.”    

As he opened the hearing, Democratic committee chairman Bennie Thompson said Pence “knew it was illegal” to overturn the election. “He knew it was wrong.”     

A Pence legal adviser, retired conservative federal appellate court judge Michael Luttig, testified that he had advised Pence that he had no authority to upend the election result.     

“If Vice President Pence had obeyed the orders of his president and declared Donald Trump the next president of the United States, notwithstanding that President Trump had lost the Electoral College vote as well as the popular vote … it would have plunged America into what would have been tantamount to a revolution and a constitutional crisis,” Luttig said.  

“Today, almost two years after that fateful day in January 2021, that still, Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy” because, he said, it could happen again in 2024.

 As Trump realized Pence would not upend the election results, Thompson said, “Donald Trump turned the mob on him, the mob that chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”       

“I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence has since said, even though his role required him to also certify his own defeat to Democrat Kamala Harris, now the U.S. vice president.          

With Pence announcing ahead of time that he would not accede to Trump’s demand, some of the rioters at the Capitol turned against him as they stormed past security barriers, scuffled with police and ransacked congressional offices. Some erected a gallows on the National Mall in sight of the Capitol.          

Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the vocally anti-Trump vice chairperson of the House of Representatives panel investigating the insurrection, said last week that Trump, watching the mayhem unfold on television from the White House, told aides he agreed with the idea that Pence should be hanged.          

“Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” he allegedly said. “Mike Pence deserves it.”         

Cheney also said, “President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol … and I quote, ‘were doing what they should be doing.’”       

“This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave,” Cheney said.   

The committee showed a brief video clip of Marc Short, who served as Pence’s chief of staff, saying that Pence told Trump “many times” that he did not have the authority to overturn the Biden victory.     

Short, who worried about Trump turning on Pence and reportedly alerted the Secret Service to a potential security threat to Pence’s life, did not testify live, but clips of his videotaped deposition were aired several times during Thursday’s hearing.  

Congressman Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat who led questioning of Thursday’s witnesses, noted that a federal judge recently declared that Trump’s arm-twisting of Pence likely violated two federal criminal statutes.           

In response to the committee’s hearings, Trump issued a 12-page statement on Monday, calling the January 6 investigation an attempt by Democrats to prevent him from running again for president in 2024. 

Thursday’s hearing is the third in a series scheduled for this month that lays out how the insurrection occurred and Trump’s role in it by inviting his supporters to come to Washington and “fight like hell” to keep him in office.         

More than 800 of them have been arrested on charges ranging from trespassing and vandalizing the Capitol to attacking police. Some ringleaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy.   

On Monday, the House panel showed videotaped testimony from numerous White House and political aides saying they told Trump on election night to hold off on declaring victory, advice he ignored when he declared victory in the early hours of November 4, 2020.      

Former Attorney General William Barr and numerous aides have told the committee that in the weeks between the election and the insurrection, they told Trump his election fraud claims were baseless and that he had lost the election.           

Barr said in taped testimony aired by the committee that many of Trump’s claims of voting irregularities were “completely bogus and silly.”        

“Obviously, he lost the election,” Barr said. “There was zero base of evidence sufficient to overturn the election.”     

VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.