(WASHINGTON) — In its third hearing Thursday, the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack outlined former President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign against then-Vice President Mike Pence — and demonstrated just how close he came to danger in the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The committee detailed what it calls just one part in a “sophisticated seven-part plan” then-President Donald Trump and his allies to unlawfully overturn the 2020 election — with Thursday’s focus on Trump’s attempted coercion of Pence as a desperate last effort to accomplish their goal.
Members focused on a theory espoused by Trump’s White House attorney John Eastman — though they said Eastman never believed the theory was lawful himself — that Pence could unilaterally reject electors on Jan. 6 as Congress met to certify the 2020 election results, as well as the “relentless pressure campaign” against Pence by Trump in private and public — even as White House aides were telling Trump the scheme was illegal.
The committee argued, “that pressure campaign directly contributed to the attack on the Capitol” and put Pence’s life at serious risk, and one witness, a former federal judge and respected conservative, warned against the ongoing threat to democracy saying Trump allies are “executing a blueprint” to overturn 2024 election.
Here are some of the key arguments from the committee Thursday’s hearing:
40 FEET FROM THE MOB
The committee released never-before-seen photos of Pence on Jan. 6 showing the vice president and his family just steps from angry rioters who entered the Capitol to disrupt the electoral vote count.
“Vice President Pence and his team ultimately were led to a secure location where they stayed for the next 4 1/2 hours,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., who led the hearing.
“Approximately 40 feet, that’s all there was, 40 feet between the vice president and the mob,” he said.
Greg Jacob, the vice president’s lawyer who was with him that day, told the committee he could “hear the din of rioters in the building” but was not “aware that they were as close as that.”
In a photo reported by ABC News Wednesday night, Pence and his family are seen hiding from rioters in his ceremonial Senate office just steps from the Senate chamber. Second lady Karen Pence was captured closing the window curtains — presumably afraid rioters outside the building could see her and her family.
“When Mike pence made it clear that he wouldn’t give in to Donald Trump’s scheme, Donald Trump turned the mob on him,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Thursday. “A mob that was chanting ‘hang Mike pence.’ A mob that had built a hanging gallows just outside the Capitol.”
PENCE REPEATEDLY TOLD TRUMP THE PLAN WAS ILLEGAL
The committee revealed evidence that Trump was repeatedly told that his demand for Pence to reject the certified slates of electors from key states won by Biden to block his victory was illegal — but that he and his allies continued to pressure Pence to do so on Jan. 6.
Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told the panel that Pence had told Trump that “many times” and that he had been “very consistent.”
Short also told the committee in a videotaped interview that he believed Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, also understood that Pence lacked the power to overturn the election results.
“I believe that Mark did agree,” Short said. “I believe that’s what he told me. But as I mentioned, I think Mark told so many people so many different things that it was not something that I would necessarily accept as … resolved.”
Other figures around Trump — including White House lawyer Eric Herschmann and campaign adviser Jason Miller — told the committee that people around the president at the time believed the plan to stop the counting of Biden electors was “nuts” and “crazy.”
“You’re going to turn around and tell 78-plus million people in this country that your theory is this is how you’re going to invalidate their votes?” Herschmann said in videotaped testimony, recalling his conversation with Trump lawyer Eastman.
Herschmann said he told Eastman, “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.”
“They thought he was crazy,” Miller told the committee when asked what Trump’s lawyers thought of Eastman’s idea.
Jacob told the committee there was “no way” Pence had the authority to determine who would be the president of the United States, laying out how his team examined 230 years of history and found no such instance of this happening “since the beginning of the country.”
‘I REMEMBER THE WORD WIMP’
During Thursday’s hearing, the committee played a video of Trump aides recounting what they overheard in the Oval Office of Trump’s Jan. 6 phone call with Pence ahead of his rally on the National Mall — his last-ditch attempt to pressure Pence to block the electoral results.
The recollections confirmed contemporaneous reporting on the tenor of the heated phone call and of Trump’s anger with Pence.
“I remember the word ‘wimp,"” Trump aide Nick Luna testified to the committee. “Wimp is the word I remember.”
“The conversation was pretty heated,” Ivanka Trump told the committee in her interview. “It was a different tone than I’d heard him take with the vice president before.”
“It was something like … ‘you’re not tough enough to make that call,"” Pence national security adviser Keith Kellogg testified.
Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff, Julie Radford, told the committee that the president’s eldest daughter told her Trump called Pence “the p-word.”
EASTMAN KNEW THE LEGAL EFFORT WOULD FAIL
In one exchange with the committee, Pence counsel Jacob said Eastman acknowledged “his theory [about Pence’s power] didn’t hold water,” in the words of Aguilar.
“We had an extended discussion an hour and a half to two hours on January 5 … When I pressed him on the play, I said, ‘John, if the vice president did what you’re asking him to do, he would lose nine to nothing in the Supreme Court."”
“Initially, he started, ‘Well, I think he would lose only 7 to 2.’ After some further discussion, he acknowledged, ‘Well, yeah, you’re right, we would lose nine to zero,"” Jacob recalled Thursday.
Jacob also said he told Eastman his theory was “just wrong,” and that if the shoe was on the other foot, he would not want Al Gore or Vice President Kamala Harris to have the power to reject slates of electors.
Jacob said Eastman replied by saying “Absolutely — Al Gore did not have a basis to do it in 2000, Kamala Harris shouldn’t be able to do it in 2024, but I think you should do it today.”
EASTMAN ASKED FOR A PARDON
The committee revealed Thursday that Eastman was still pushing Pence’s team to delay the counting of electoral votes even after rioters had been cleared from the Capitol.
But days after the attack, he emailed Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani saying he would be interested in a pardon — which the committee has said could suggest he believed he may have acted illegally.
“I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” Eastman said in his email.
Eastman also pleaded the Fifth 100 times in his interview with the committee, for which he appeared under subpoena after repeated delays.
ABC News’ Libby Cathey contributed to this report.
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