The United States House committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol last year has turned its attention to former President Donald Trump’s pressure on his vice president to overturn the 2020 elections result.
As the tiebreaker and president of the Senate, Mike Pence ceremoniously presided over the certification of the vote on January 6, 2021.
Witnesses, including many Pence aides and advisers, testified in detail before the panel on Thursday about Trump’s push to convince the then-vice president to overturn the election results.
Here is a look at five key takeaways from the third public hearing this month:
Pence had no constitutional authority to overturn election: Witnesses
Several witnesses testified on Thursday that Pence had no legal power to interfere with the election results, stressing that there is no precedent in US history for what Trump was asking his vice president to do.
J Michael Luttig, a retired federal appeals judge, who also previously served as an informal adviser to Pence, drove that point home in his opening remarks. Luttig said if the ex-vice president had obeyed Trump’s orders, it would have caused the first constitutional crisis in US history.
Declaring that Trump won the 2020 election over Joe Biden “would have plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis in America”, he told the panel.
Luttig later added that the notion that the vice president had a substantive – not merely ceremonial – role in the counting of electoral votes is “constitutional mischief”.
“I would have laid my body across the road before I would have let the vice president overturn the 2020 election,” Luttig said.
Trump’s team knew campaign was illegal: Panel
Witnesses suggested on Thursday that Trump and his aides, who were pushing for Pence to overturn the vote, knew that their plan would violate the US Constitution.
“Donald Trump knew he lost the 2020 election, but he could not bring himself to participate in the peaceful transfer of power, so he latched on to a scheme that – once again – he knew was illegal,” said Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar, who played a leading role at Thursday’s hearing.
Greg Jacob, former counsel to Pence, testified that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer who was pushing for the vice president to overturn election results, acknowledged that the Supreme Court would unanimously rule against such interference.
“Wouldn’t we lose nine to nothing in the Supreme Court?” Jacob recalled asking Eastman.
“And again, he initially started: ‘Well, maybe we’d only lose seven to two.’ But ultimately [Eastman] acknowledged that no, we would lose nine-zero. No judge would support his argument.”
Pence’s life was in danger, panel says
The panel said the Capitol rioters came within 12m (40 feet) from where Pence was sheltering inside the building on January 6.
“Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president’s life was in danger,” Aguilar said. “A recent court filing by the Department of Justice explains that a confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.”
For his part, Jacob said Pence refused to leave the Capitol building even as it became apparent that rioters were inside.
“The vice president did not want to take any chance that the world would see the vice president of the United States fleeing the United States Capitol,” Jacob testified.
He said Pence “was determined” to finish his constitutional duty of presiding over the electoral count.
Jacob added that the former vice president wanted to ensure that rioters “would not have the satisfaction of disrupting proceedings beyond the day on which they were supposed to be held”.
In tense call before riots, Trump hurled insults at Pence
Witnesses described a tense call between Trump and Pence on the morning of January 6, before the riots broke out. The then-president hurled insults at his vice president for refusing to overturn election results, according to the testimonies.
Nicholas Luna, a former Trump aide, said in a recording that he remembered Trump calling Pence a “wimp”.
Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, recalled that the conversation was “heated”.
“It was a different tone than I’d heard him take with the vice president before,” she said in a video.
Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump’s former chief of staff, said the former presidential adviser told her that Trump had called Pence “the P-word”.
The committee highlighted how Trump focused his ire on his vice president once Pence refused to disrupt the certification of Biden’s presidential victory.
“We are fortunate for Mr Pence’s courage,” panel chair Bennie Thompson said in his opening testimony.
“On January 6, our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger. When Mike Pence made it clear that he wouldn’t give in to Donald Trump’s scheme, Donald Trump turned the mob on him.”
Ex-judge says Trump still ‘clear’ danger to US democracy
Luttig, the retired federal judge, said Trump and his allies remain a “clear and present danger to American democracy”.
A conservative legal scholar who was appointed to the federal judiciary by former Republican President George W Bush, Luttig said Trump and his allies are already pledging that they “would attempt to overturn” the 2024 elections if the results do not go their way.
“I don’t speak those words lightly,” Luttig told the committee, delivering his remarks slowly. “I would have never spoken those words ever in my life – except that that’s what the former president and his allies are telling us.”