Miss Day 3 of the Jan. 6 hearing? Pence's role opposing insurrection takes center stage

Pence's aides spoke of their worries about the vice president's safety and one aide testified he told the Secret Service of his concerns.

  • Mike Pence told Donald Trump directly he opposed plot to overturn 2020 election
  • U.S. would have 'plunged' into revolution and crisis if Pence yielded
  • Controversial memo to reject electors by Trump lawyer slammed by multiple witnesses

The special congressional committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol riots continued for its third round of public hearings on Thursday with a spotlight on the intense pressure former Vice President Mike Pence received from Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election results.

The panel heard from multiple witnesses who outlined former President Trump's effort to lobby his vice president to reject electoral votes for Joe Biden during the official certification of state results.

The panel's leaders said the evidence showed Trump wanted Pence to either declare Trump the winner or send the votes back to the states to be counted again.

But Pence resisted that coercion – even amid death threats from those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the day the House and Senate certified Biden's election win.

"We're fortunate for Mr. Pence's courage on Jan. 6," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, chair of the committee. "Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe." 

Since leaving office, Pence has put distance between himself and Trump in terms of what happened during the attack on the Capitol.

A noose on makeshift gallows as supporters of then-President Donald Trump gather at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In February, for instance, he told a conservative group how he could not – and would not – have helped change the 2020 election results in favor his former boss.

More: Pence says Trump was 'wrong' to claim vice president could have overturned 2020 election

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee's vice chair, said Thursday's hearing shows Pence and others did the right thing by rejecting an illegal and unconstitutional move by the former president.

"Vice President Pence understood that his oath of office was more import than his loyalty to Donald Trump – he did his duty," she said. "President Trump unequivocally did not."

Over the past week the first two public hearings have showcased a series of witnesses who have testified about the actions by Trump and his allies before rioters stormed the Capitol, and how Trump fueled false claims about the election being stolen even when told by campaign and White House officials he lost.

Here are highlights from day 3 of the hearing:

'Hang Mike Pence'

The committee played distressing video clips of Jan. 6 rioters issuing menacing threats about Pence for refusing to throw out electoral votes as Trump had demanded.

"I'm hearing reports that Pence caved," one rioter said.

The demonstrators are heard in another clip chanting: "Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!"

Pence told Trump no – directly

The special panel also played depositions from Pence's former staffers who said the vice president told Trump directly that he lacked the legal and constitutional authority to reject electoral votes.

Marc Short, who was Pence's chief of staff, said in videotaped testimony that in addition to writing a letter to Trump, the vice president said "many times" and "very consistently" he could not hand the election to Trump.

Vice President Mike Pence officiates in a joint session of the House and Senate to count Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

U.S. faced a 'constitutional crisis'

Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge and former Pence adviser, testified on Thursday that  the country was on the verge of its first ever constitutional crisis.

“That declaration of Donald Trump as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis in America,” Luttig said.

Eastman memo is bunk, experts say

The committee showed a draft memo by John Eastman, a Trump lawyer, who argued that under the 12th Amendment Pence could reject the electoral votes for Biden.

Luttig excoriated Eastman's legal theory, saying there is "no basis in the Constitution" for such an idea. "None at all," he said.

More: Pence says he could run for president in 2024 even if Trump also runs

Greg Jacob, a former legal counsel for Pence, added that no vice president in U.S. history had claimed to have such authority.

“There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person would choose the American president," he said.

Jan. 6 probe: John Eastman records could point to crimes

'You're going to cause riots'

The Eastman memo ignited a debate among Trump's aides, according to the panel.

White House counsel Eric Herschmann, in a videotaped deposition, said he disagreed with the legal theory, and warned that voters would too.

"You're completely crazy. You're going to turn around and tell 78-plus million people in this country that your theory ... is how you're going to invalidate their votes because you think the election was stolen," Herschmann said he told Eastman.

"They're not going to tolerate that. You're going to cause riots in the streets."

Hannity was worried

Fox News host Sean Hannity expressed concern about Trump's pressure on Pence in a series of text messages to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the special committee showed. 

Hannity said how the entire White House legal counsel could quit in protest, advising Meadows that Trump should accept the results.

"I'm very worried about the next 48 hours," Hannity said in a Jan. 5 text.

Did Eastman believe his own idea?

At the tail end of Thursday's hearing, the panel questioned witnesses about whether Eastman thought the vice president could actually declare the winner of the 2020 election.

Jacob told the committee that Eastman admitted after a nearly 2-hour debate a day before the Jan. 6 riot that the Supreme Court would have likely rejected his own legal theory.

"When I pressed him on the point, I said, 'John, if the vice president did what you're asking him to do, we would lose 9-0 in the Supreme Court wouldn't we?'" Jacob said. "Initially, he said we would lose only 7-2, but after some further discussion acknowledged we would lose 9-0."

Trump and allies leaned on Pence

Weeks before Jan. 6, Trump and his allies engaged in a major campaign to pressure Pence, through private conversations and public comments at rallies and in the media.

During a rally in Georgia, for instance, Trump said if Pence "doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much." He later said in a Jan. 5 tweet how the vice president had the power to "reject fraudulently chosen electors."

Jacob said the vice president, however, "never budged" on the issue.

Pence in danger, staff says

Leading up to Jan. 6, Pence’s staff started to worry about the vice president's safety due to Trump’s pressure. Short said he spoke with the Secret Service about how the “president would lash out in some way.”

Trump turned on Pence, rioters did too

On the morning of Jan. 6, Trump telephoned Pence and called him a “wimp” and the “p-word,” according to videotaped witness testimony. That afternoon he tweeted how the vice president “didn’t have the courage” to overturn the election results.

One rioter said Pence “deserves to burn with the rest of them." Another said the mob wanted to kill Pence.

The vice president was rushed to a secure location for four hours with rioters a mere 40 feet away, footage provided by the panel showed.

Eventually Pence returned to the Senate floor and certified the election for Biden.