Former Vice President Mike Pence’s pivotal decision to refuse Secret Service agents trying to evacuate him from the Capitol as threatening rioters charged into the building is taking center stage as the select Jan. 6 committee prepares to address the public.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democratic member of the panel, did not mince words Thursday as he accused former President Donald Trump of orchestrating a “coup” to stay in power along with his “inner circle” of confidants, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who have mightily resisted cooperating with congressional investigators. Getting Pence, who resisted pressure from Trump and his allies to stall the Electoral College vote count, out of the building during the riot was presented as a keen focus.
“This was not a coup directed at the president,” Raskin said during a Georgetown University event. “It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.”
Pence, along with his wife and daughter, was rushed to an underground Senate loading dock when a largely pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and disrupted the process over which the vice president was presiding: Congress meeting to certify the 2020 election results. Pence’s Secret Service detail, including one agent carrying a nuclear football, was “presumably” reporting to Trump’s Secret Service agents when the vice president rejected their effort to “spirit him off of the campus,” Raskin said.
Pence “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'” until the Electoral College votes were counted, Raskin said. “He knew exactly what this inside coup they had planned for was going to do,” he added.
This exchange described by Raskin was reported in the 2021 book I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig. Tim Giebels, the lead special agent in charge of Pence’s protective detail, repeatedly asked the vice president to evacuate the Capitol, but Pence refused.
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After Pence’s detail led him to a secure subterranean area where the vice president’s armored limousine was located, Giebels asked Pence to get in one of the vehicles present. “We can hold here,” he said, according to the book. “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.”
What transpired in the White House around this time, as described in the book, is a conversation between Tony Ornato, who oversaw the Secret Service’s movements, and Keith Kellogg, a national security adviser to Pence. Ornato reportedly told Kellogg that Pence’s detail was planning to move the vice president to Joint Base Andrews, which is located in Maryland, but Kellogg refused to accept that plan. “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,” Kellogg said, according to the report, which notes that Ornato, through a spokesperson, denied the conversation took place.
“We don’t know whether or not Pence thought this was a coup,” Leonnig said Friday during an appearance on MSNBC, in contrast to Raskin’s assertion. “What we know is Pence was super suspicious and insistent on staying.”
Former White House adviser Peter Navarro has opened up about working with Trump ally Steve Bannon to implement what he dubs the “Green Bay Sweep.” The plan was to enlist members of Congress and put pressure on Pence to stall the Jan. 6 certification and send electoral votes back to several battleground states where GOP-led legislatures could try to overturn the results over concerns about fraud and irregularities. Navarro claimed the rioters who swarmed the Capitol, disrupting the counting of electoral votes, messed up the plan. Lawmakers, along with Pence, reconvened that night and certified President Joe Biden’s victory.
Pence publicly maintains a rosy view of his White House tenure working with Trump, and although some of the rioters were threatening Trump’s vice president, chanting “hang Mike Pence” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Pence has downplayed the events of the violence as “one day in January” while critiquing the media’s focus on it as being a way to distract from the Biden administration’s “failed agenda.”
Trump told the Washington Examiner last month that he was “disappointed” in Pence because of his refusal to cave to pressure and try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. “Mike and I had a great relationship except for the very important factor that took place at the end. We had a very good relationship,” Trump said. “I haven’t spoken to him in a long time.”
Members of the panel investigating the Capitol riot are unclear on whether they will invite Pence to testify as they reportedly zero in on the final call Trump and his vice president had on the morning of Jan. 6, but some of Pence’s top advisers have spoken to the committee.
Raskin, who led the second impeachment against Trump, set high expectations for the hearings the Jan. 6 committee could hold as early as June and the report that members plan to release afterward.
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“The hearings will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House,” the congressman from Maryland said, “because it is a story of the most heinous and dastardly political offense ever organized by a president and his followers and his entourage in the history of the United States.”
Trump has consistently disparaged the Jan. 6 panel as a political witch hunt. “The Unselect Committee’s sole goal is to try to prevent President Trump, who is leading by large margins in every poll, from running again for president, if I so choose,” he said in a statement last month.