Key Trump lawyer sought presidential pardon after effort to overturn election failed

by 24USATVJune 16, 2022, 9 p.m. 17
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The email capped off a hearing that highlighted deceptive tactics that Trump and Eastman used to push their fringe legal theory that Pence had the power to reject state election results, giving Republican-controlled state legislatures time to adopt new, pro-Trump electors. The committee also revealed that on Jan. 5, 2021 Trump ordered his campaign to make a false statement that Pence had agreed he had the power to overturn the election.

“The vice president and I are in total agreement that the vice president has the power to act,” Trump said in the statement.

It was a lie. Pence and his team had insisted for days — including in a Jan. 4 meeting directly with Trump — that such an effort would be illegal and Pence would have no part in it. The select committee revealed additional witness testimony from Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short, in which he expressed frustration that the Trump campaign would put out a statement that directly contradicted their private talks.

The evidence underscored the degree to which Trump actively pushed his desperate bid to stay in power, an effort that had convinced thousands of supporters who descended on Washington on Jan. 6 that Pence would act to overturn the election. The select committee showed that in his speech to supporters that morning, Trump inserted language to publicly pressure Pence even though it hadn’t been included in early drafts of his speech.

When Pence refused to given in to Trump and Eastman’s demands, a mob that had already encircled and broken into the Capitol grew even more menacing, with some chanting “hang Mike Pence” as the vice president fled to a secure underground loading dock beneath the building. While there, the select committee indicated he was attempting to quell the riot, calling congressional leaders and security officials, while Trump remained cloistered in the West Wing looking for ways to push forward his plan to remain in power. The select committee showed that Pence had been within 40 feet of members of the mob during his evacuation to the loading dock.

The select committee’s evidence for Trump’s role in the Jan. 5 statement came from Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser who told the select committee he was on the phone with Trump as the statement was crafted.

“He dictated most of it … specifically on this one, it was me and him on the phone talking through it,” Miller said.

The newly revealed evidence came amid a hearing focused on Trump’s pressure campaign against Pence. It featured testimony from a top aide to Pence — counsel Greg Jacob — who issued a warning to Americans: “The law is not a plaything for presidents or judges.”

In a three-page statement he provided to the Jan. 6 select committee, Jacob detailed what he said are the underlying principles that led Pence to reject Trump’s pressure to declare that President Joe Biden’s win was illegitimate.

“The Vice President’s first instinct was that the Framers of our Constitution, who abhorred concentrated power, would never have entrusted any one person with the unilateral authority to alter the outcome of a presidential election — particularly not a person who is on the ticket,” Jacob wrote. Pence, he added, “never wavered from that view.”

Jacob’s testimony teed up another chapter of Trump’s crusade to remain in office, one that a federal judge has already ruled may have amounted to a criminal conspiracy among Trump, attorney John Eastman — who helped develop the fringe legal strategy centered on Pence — and perhaps others. Eastman continued to lean on Jacob to persuade Pence to reject state electors and help deliver Trump the presidency, even while a violent mob forced Pence, Jacob and and lawmakers to flee the Capitol for safety.

On Thursday, Jacob described Penceworld’s pushback to the effort from Dec. 7, 2020 through Jan. 6, 2021. The select committee has long asserted that Trump’s pressure morphed into a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress, a key point of the panel’s probe that investigators on Thursday will fight to prove to the public — and the Department of Justice.

Jacob noted in his opening statement that the Justice Department helped Pence fend off two lawsuits seeking to vindicate Eastman’s strategy. Jacob’s efforts also included working with House and Senate parliamentarians to insert new language into the script the former vice president read from during the Jan. 6 session, adding and tweaking language to reflect his resistance to Trump and Eastman’s plan. The select committee also played video excerpts from Pence’s then-chief of staff Marc Short, who testified to the panel at length earlier this year.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) led the hearing, which also featured questioning from former U.S. Attorney John Wood, who has been one of the senior investigative attorneys on the committee.

When a pro-Trump mob battered its way into the Capitol, many were furious and bewildered that Pence had not agreed to Eastman’s plan. And Trump’s angry tweet at Pence amid the riot appeared to further inflame the mob, with rioters reading the tweet out to the crowd as violence escalated.

Jacob was the intellectual force behind Pence’s refusal to bow to Trump’s pressure campaign. After a month of intensive research, he concluded that the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act — the law that has governed every transition of power since 1887 — prohibited Pence from taking unilateral action. In fact, he said, Eastman’s proposal would have required him to break four different provisions of the Electoral Count Act.

Notably, Jacob — who has advised lawmakers considering reforms to the ECA — suggested that the laws on the books were already sufficient to bar the strategy Eastman had proposed.

"[O]ur enacted laws were already clear that the Vice President did not possess the extraordinary powers others urged upon him,” Jacob wrote. “New statutes will make little difference if we do not first inculcate in our citizens and demand in our leaders unfailing fidelity to our Constitution and the rule of law.”

For the select committee, Eastman has emerged as a sort of man-behind-the-curtain for Trump, the lawyer who justified his most extreme efforts. And Eastman continued to push his efforts even as the mob ransacked the Capitol, sending Pence and lawmakers fleeing for safety. In court filings, the select committee disclosed emails between Jacob and Eastman amid the violence, with Eastman continuing to urge him to disregard the Electoral Count Act’s limitations and postpone the session. Jacob repeatedly rebuffed him, adding, “Thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.”

Alongside Jacob was former appeals court Judge Michael Luttig, a conservative for whom Eastman once clerked. Jacob deputized Luttig to help Pence craft his final pushback to Trump’s pressure campaign, and Pence quoted his argument in a Jan. 6 statement announcing his decision to refuse to go along with Trump. Luttig has since vocally warned that the forces behind Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election are still a threat to future elections.

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