Call Trump or Pence? It’s decision time for the January 6 panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee is investigating the January 6 insurrection. surveyed nearly 1,000 people. But the nine-member panel has yet to speak to the two most important players in the day’s events – former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

As the investigation draws to a close and the panel plans a series of hearings in June, committee members debate whether to call the two men, including the dispute over whether to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was at the center of the attack. Trump has been pressuring Pence for days, if not weeks, to use his ceremonial role presiding over the Jan. 6 count to try to block or delay Biden’s certification. Pence refused to do so and rioters who stormed the building that day called for him to be hanged.

There are reasons to call one or the other or both. The committee wants to be as thorough as possible, and critics are sure to pounce if they don’t even try. But some lawmakers on the panel argued they got all the information they needed without Trump and Pence.

Almost a year after the start of their extensive investigation into the worst attack on the Capitol in more than two centuries, the House committee interviewed hundreds of witnesses and received more than 100,000 pages of documents. Interviews were conducted out of sight of the public eye in dark federal office buildings and private Zoom sessions.

The Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said in early April that the committee was able to validate many statements attributed to Trump and Pence without their testimony. He said at that time there was “no effort on the part of the committee” to call Pence, although there have been discussions since then about the possibility of doing so.

Speaking of Pence, Thompson said the panel “initially thought it would be important” to call him, but “there’s a lot of things that day that we know — we know the people who tried to call him out.” change your mind about counting and all that, so what do we need?”

A lot of the people they’re interviewing, Thompson added, “are people we didn’t have on the original list.”

The panel, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, said the evidence it compiled is sufficient to link Trump to a federal crime.

Much of the evidence the committee has released so far comes from White House aides and staffers — including little-known witnesses like Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House special aide to Trump, and Greg Jacob, who served as Pence’s chief counsel in the vice president’s office. The panel also has thousands of texts from Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and spoke to two of the former president’s children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who were with their father on the day of the offensive.

Among hundreds of others, the committee also interviewed former White House aide Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband, former communications director Alyssa Farah and several Pence aides, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, and his national security adviser, Keith Kellogg. Former White House press secretaries Kayleigh McEnany and Stephanie Grisham also appeared, as did former senior political adviser Stephen Miller.

There are still questions Trump and Pence could answer, including what they talked about on the morning of Jan. 6, when Trump made his final plea for Pence to void the election when he presided over the Electoral College count. in Congress. Lawmakers were able to document most of the end of Trump’s appeal, but not what Pence said in response.

Within hours of Trump and Pence’s speeches, the vice president released a statement saying he had no authority to object to the electoral vote count. But the president didn’t back down and continued to publicly pressure Pence during his massive rally outside the White House, and then on Twitter even after his supporters stormed into the Capitol.

Still, the two former leaders are unlikely to speak to the committee about the conversation – and it’s unclear whether they would cooperate at all.

While Pence has yet to comment on the committee’s work, Trump would certainly be a hostile witness. He fought the investigation in court, demonized the committee on TV, and tried to assert executive privilege over White House logs and every conversation he had with his aides — demands that would certainly apply to his morning call with Pence.

Moreover, calling a former president or vice president to testify in a congressional investigation is a rare, if not unprecedented, move that could face major legal hurdles and backfire politically.

The Jan. 6 committee gave only a glimpse of what it found, mostly in court documents where excerpts from transcripts were used.

A recent committee filing revealed portions of interviews with Hutchinson that took place in February and March of this year. This testimony provided new evidence about the involvement of GOP lawmakers in Trump’s efforts to annul the 2020 election, including a meeting at the White House. in which the president’s lawyers indicated that the establishment of an alternative list of voters declaring Trump the winner was not “legally valid”.

Another court document revealed testimony of Jacob, who served as Pence’s principal attorney. In a series of emails, Jacob repeatedly told attorney John Eastman, who worked with Trump, that Pence could not step into his ceremonial role and stop the certification of electoral votes. Jacob told Eastman that the legal framework he was proposing to do just that was “essentially entirely made up.”

Meadows’ texts were also telling, detailing how people inside Trump’s orbit pleaded with him to strongly condemn the attack on the Capitol as it unfolded. Calls came from Trump’s children, members of Congress and even Fox News hosts.

“He has to lead now. It’s gone too far and it’s gotten out of hand,” Donald Trump Jr. sent to Meadows as protesters broke through the Capitol security perimeter.


PA Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.


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