I first got interested in politics through paranoia. (As the years have gone by, I’ve found that this was the best kind of introduction I could have had.) I devoured political thrillers about dark doings in Washington, D.C. Seven Days in May was my gateway drug. There was Night at Camp David, about a president who went crazy, and Vanished, about a secret peace conference, and the self-explanatory The President’s Plane Is Missing, about another secret peace conference. There was Fail-Safe, the classic about an accidental nuclear exchange. If you dig deep enough, you find that my politics were formed as much by Fletcher Knebel as by anyone else. However, this early reading has become increasingly relevant in recent weeks as we steadily discover that we actually had a half-mad president* who plotted to overthrow the government. Air Force One, I presume, is still where it’s supposed to be.
Over the weekend, speaking at Georgetown, Rep. Jamie Raskin brought us back to a genuinely scarifying tale that emerged concerning what happened with then-Vice President Mike Pence during the height of the violence at the Capitol. It came from an excerpt in the Washington Post from a book by the Post team of Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker published in July of last year:
At that moment, Pence was still in his ceremonial office — protected by Secret Service agents, but vulnerable because the second-floor office had windows that could be breached and the intruding thugs had gained control of the building. Tim Giebels, the lead special agent in charge of the vice president’s protective detail, twice asked Pence to evacuate the Capitol, but Pence refused. “I’m not leaving the Capitol,” he told Giebels. The last thing the vice president wanted was the people attacking the Capitol to see his 20-car motorcade fleeing. That would only vindicate their insurrection.
At 2:26, after a team of agents scouted a safe path to ensure the Pences would not encounter trouble, Giebels and the rest of Pence’s detail guided them down a staircase to a secure subterranean area that rioters couldn’t reach, where the vice president’s armored limousine awaited. Giebels asked Pence to get in one of the vehicles. “We can hold here,” he said.
“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”
Wait. The vice president refused to obey his Secret Service detail because he was worried that the driver, also from the Secret Service, would abscond with him and Pence would be unable to complete the certification ritual that would make Joe Biden president? And, according to Leonnig and Rucker, this wasn’t the only scene of the Grab Pence drama.
Around this time, [Pence’s national security advisor Keith] Kellogg ran into Tony Ornato in the West Wing. Ornato, who oversaw Secret Service movements, told him that Pence’s detail was planning to move the vice president to Joint Base Andrews. “You can’t do that, Tony,” Kellogg said. “Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it.”
Pence had made clear to Giebels the level of his determination and Kellogg said there was no changing it. “He’s going to stay there,” Kellogg told Ornato. “If he has to wait there all night, he’s going to do it.” Ornato, through a spokesman, denied having this conversation.
Raskin called our attention again to this reporting during his appearance at Georgetown. From NBC News:
Speaking about the threats to Pence on Jan. 6 and the chants by rioters to hang him, Raskin said the vice president’s Secret Service agents — including one who was carrying the nuclear football — ran down to an undisclosed place in the Capitol. Those agents, who Raskin said he suspects were reporting to Trump’s Secret Service agents, were trying to whisk Pence away from the Capitol. Pence then “uttered what I think are the six most chilling words of this entire thing I’ve seen so far: ‘I’m not getting in that car,'” Raskin said. “He knew exactly what this inside coup they had planned for was going to do,” Raskin said.
I know I’m just a grumpy Old Media dude, but the prospect that the vice president and his staff suspected elements of the Secret Service were part of an effort to put the bag on him strikes me as what we used to be called a “story,” and one that has what we used to call “legs.” Where did this story go between the publication of the book last summer and Raskin’s talk at Georgetown over the weekend? Mother of god, what will it take for them to tell us in terms so plain and firm as to command our assent—Thanks, T.J.—how very close we came to losing it all?
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