The latest public hearing in the United States congressional panel’s investigation into the Capitol riot has focused on former President Donald Trump’s push to pressure his vice president to overturn the 2020 elections.
Committee co-chair Liz Cheney said ahead of Thursday’s session that the panel would hone in on Trump‘s “relentless effort” to pressure Mike Pence “both in private and in public”.
“Vice President Pence demonstrated his loyalty to Donald Trump consistently over four years, but he knew that he had a higher duty to the United States Constitution,” Cheney said last week.
What actions did Pence take on January 6 and the preceding days? And what amount of pressure was he under?
Here is what we know:
Trump’s frantic push to claim victory
As Trump’s frantic efforts to stave off defeat were quashed by courts and state officials, he and his allies zeroed in on January 6 — the day a joint session of Congress would convene to formalise President-elect Joe Biden’s win — as their last chance to remain in power.
The heavy-handed pressure campaign intensified in the days leading up to January 6 as Trump, lawyer John Eastman and others in Trump’s orbit tried to convince Pence that he had the power to overturn the will of voters in a handful of critical battleground states by simply rejecting Electoral College votes or sending the results back to the states — even though the Constitution makes clear the vice president’s role in the proceedings is largely ceremonial.
Pence spent hours huddling with staff, including his general counsel, Greg Jacob. He studied the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which governs the proceedings, and met the Senate parliamentarian to understand his role. He also received outside counsel, including from former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Some aides appealed to Trump not to put his unflinchingly loyal vice president in such a precarious position. Pence was already widely seen as a potential future presidential candidate and a public fissure with Trump was seen as a potential career-ender. But Trump kept pushing, both publicly and behind the scenes.
On January 4, Eastman and Trump pressed Pence to go along with the scheme in an Oval Office meeting. And at a rally that night in Georgia, Trump said his fate rested in his vice president’s hands. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he told the crowd.
Trump continued to push in an Oval Office meeting the next day, again demanding Pence use powers the vice president did not possess to overturn the will of voters. Pence made clear he was unconvinced.
‘Hang Mike Pence’
The pressure continued through the night. “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency,” Trump tweeted around 1 am.
“All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN,” he wrote later that morning. “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
Pence was at his residence at the Naval Observatory the morning of January 6 when he spoke a final time with Trump, who was joined in the Oval Office by his daughter Ivanka and Pence’s national security adviser, Keith Kellogg.
During the call, in the 11am hour, Trump berated Pence, chastising him for not being tough enough to go along with the scheme, according to Kellogg’s testimony to the committee.
Pence then headed to the Capitol to oversee the counting of the Electoral College votes. But first Pence made official his decision. In a letter addressed to his colleagues in Congress, Pence explained why he could not go along with Trump’s plan.
“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” he wrote.
US Senate gavelled into session
At 1:03pm, he officially gavelled the US Senate into session as pro-Trump rioters, who had already breached Capitol barricades, were outside clashing with police.
By that point, Trump was already close to wrapping up his speech on the Ellipse in which he repeatedly targeted Pence and urged his supporters to “fight like hell”.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” Trump falsely told the crowd. “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”
Outside the Capitol, the scene devolved into violent chaos as rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol, quickly overwhelming police.
At about 2:12pm, Pence was rushed off the Senate floor as rioters flooded inside. The Washington Post first reported that Pence, who had been joined that day by his wife and daughter, was at one point fewer than 100 feet from a group of protesters.
Pence goes into hiding
Pence spent the next hours in hiding with his staff and family — first in his ceremonial office and then in an underground loading dock inside the Capitol complex. At several points, he rejected pleas from security staff to leave, insisting it was crucial that he remain in place.
“He looked at that and said, ‘I don’t want the world seeing the vice president leaving the Capitol in a 15-car motorcade,’” Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told CNN on Wednesday. “’This is the hallmark of democracy and we’re going to complete our work.’”
But even as the horror played out live on television, Trump, instead of urging his supporters to go home, blasted Pence.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” Trump tweeted at 2:24pm.
Trump’s tweet echoed through the angry mob. Footage obtained by the committee shows rioters reading Trump’s words aloud and crowds breaking into chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” A makeshift gallows was photographed outside.
Cheney charged that Trump was made aware of the chants and “responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves it.'” Trump responded on his social media app, saying he “NEVER said, or even thought of saying, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’”
Calls to US lawmakers
Pence worked the phone from his then-secret location.
Short told Fox Business that Pence’s first calls were to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders — Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — “to make sure they were safe and to make sure their functions were OK.”
Pence also “reached out to the Pentagon to make sure additional reinforcements were sent” at the encouragement of House and Senate leaders, who made clear in subsequent calls that they were frustrated the National Guard had not arrived.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee in testimony that military leaders spoke two or three times with Pence and that the vice president “was very animated, very direct, very firm to [Acting Defense] Secretary [Christopher] Miller”.
“Get the military down here, get the Guard down here. Put down this situation, et cetera,” Milley recalled.
Indeed, at 4:08pm, Pence placed an urgent phone call from the Capitol as rioters pummelled police and vandalised the building, informing Miller the Capitol was not secure and asking military leaders for a deadline for securing the building, according to a document prepared by the Pentagon for internal use that was obtained by The Associated Press.
“Clear the Capitol,” Pence told them.
Milley told the committee that Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had a different focus when they also spoke. “He said: We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the president is still in charge and that things are steady or stable, or words to that effect,” Milley testified.
Pence reconvenes the Senate
At 8pm, after hours of fear and carnage, the Capitol was finally deemed secure.
Pence reconvened the Senate with a message.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift efforts of US Capitol Police, federal, state and local law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol is secured. And the people’s work continues,” he told the nation. “Let’s get back to work,” he said to applause.
Just after 3:40am Pence officially declared Trump’s election defeat — as well as his own.