Pence testifies before January 6 grand jury in blow to Trump

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Washington: Former US vice president Mike Pence has testified before a federal grand jury investigating the plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election, giving him the opportunity to deal his former boss Donald Trump a major blow as they head towards a possible face-off in next year’s Republican nominating contest.

Pence became the highest-ranking former government official to testify before a federal grand jury in Washington, potentially providing damaging details about what Trump and his allies did in the days before the deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Former US vice president Mike Pence speaks at an event in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: AP

Pence spent several hours on Thursday (US time) before a federal grand jury in Washington being used by Special Counsel Jack Smith, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because grand jury matters are secret. It wasn’t immediately clear what he said or what he was asked about.

Pence is a key witness for the investigation because he had personal conversations with Trump and was the subject of a pressure campaign to thwart certification of the election results over a joint session of Congress to confirm the election outcome on that day.

As vice president, Pence had a ceremonial role overseeing Congress’ counting of the electoral college votes but did not have the power to affect the results, despite Trump’s contention otherwise.

Pence is considering challenging his former boss for the 2024 Republican nomination. While Trump has already declared his candidacy, Pence has not, but instead has said “I think we’ll have better choices” than Trump.

Former US president Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on Thursday as Mike Pence gave his testimony to the Capitol riots probe.Credit: AP

Pence testified the day after a panel of judges from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against Trump’s effort to prevent him from speaking to the grand jury. The appearance appears to head off any possible bid by Trump’s lawyers to continue to fight Pence’s testimony.

Trump could have asked for the full appellate court to reconsider or asked the Supreme Court justices to intervene, but didn’t immediately do so in the hours after an order came down on Wednesday.

“We’ll obey the law, we’ll tell the truth,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation that aired on 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.”

Spokespeople for Pence and the special counsel’s office declined to comment. A Trump representative did not respond for a request to comment.

The January 6 inquiry hearing shows footage of Mike Pence at a secure location during the Capitol riots.Credit: AP

Pence has said he didn’t have the power under the US Constitution to do what Trump wanted on January 6. He has said the former president’s rhetoric at a rally right before the insurrection was “reckless” and that he was “angered” by Trump’s tweet saying Pence didn’t have the courage to do what must be done – posted while the assault on the Capitol was under way and Pence and his family were fleeing the rioters.

Some rioters hunted Pence, saying they wanted to execute him by a hanging. Pence has said he and Trump will probably never make amends regarding what happened that day.

Pence rebuffed Trump’s pressure campaign to interfere with Congress’s certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, and he has spoken publicly about that since he left office, though not under oath.

Trump, meanwhile, denounced Smith’s investigation as a politically motivated witch-hunt orchestrated by the Biden administration.

A makeshift gallows with a noose was erected outside the Capitol on January 6 when Donald Trump supporters chanted “Hang Mike Pence”.Credit: Getty

Trump could try to spin any perceived co-operation by Pence should they go up against each other on the campaign trail.

Smith’s office subpoenaed Pence earlier this year. A federal judge ruled, however, that Pence would not have to talk to the grand jury about his constitutional role on the day as presiding officer of the Senate.

In his book So Help Me God, Pence details the pressure campaign Trump waged both publicly and in private. That included calls from Trump and a meeting alone with him in the Oval Office on January 5 and a final call he received from Trump at 11am on January 6. Pence said Trump “laid into me” for not being willing to overturn the election.

“‘You’ll go down as a wimp,’ he predicted, adding, ‘If you do that, I made a big mistake five years ago,’ ” Pence wrote, referring to Trump’s decision to pick Pence as his running mate.

“But when he said, ‘You’re not protecting our country, you’re supposed to support and defend our country,’ I calmly reminded him we both took an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”

Bloomberg, AP

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