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The Jan. 6 committee held its third public hearing Thursday afternoon. The focus was on the role of former Vice President Mike Pence during the counting of the Electoral College votes, and public and private efforts led by former President Trump and his allies to pressure Pence to throw out the results. NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins and Laura Barrón-López join Judy Woodruff to discuss.
The congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol held its third public hearing this afternoon. The focus was on the role of former Vice President Mike Pence during the counting of the Electoral College votes and public and private efforts led by former President Trump himself and his allies to pressure Pence to throw out the results.
While much of the hearing established the facts of January the 6th and the days leading up to it, retired federal Judge Michael Luttig, who had advised Pence, testified about the very real threat he says still exists.
J. Michael Luttig, Former Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge: Almost two years after that fateful day, in January, 2021, that, still, Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.
The committee's chairman, Democrat Bennie Thompson, explained how Pence understood his role on January 6, his efforts to withstand the pressure, and the potential danger he faced.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS):
Donald Trump wanted Mike Pence to do something no other vice president has ever done. The former president wanted Pence to reject the votes and either declare Trump the winner or send the votes back to the states to be counted again.
Mike Pence said no. He resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong. We're fortunate for Mr. Pence's courage on January 6. Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger.
When Mike Pence made it clear that he wouldn't give in to Donald Trump's scheme, Donald Trump turned the mob on him, a mob that was chanting, "Hang Mike Pence," a mob that had built a hangman's gallows just outside the Capitol.
Thanks in part to Mike Pence, our democracy withstood Donald Trump's scheme and the violence of January 6. But the danger hasn't receded.
"NewsHour" congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our new White House correspondent, Laura Barron-Lopez, have been watching the hearing today. And they both join me now.
Laura, and welcome to you to the "NewsHour." We are so glad to have you working with us.
I'm going to start with you.
So much of today's testimony was around a man named John Eastman, law professor who, in those days, became a close adviser to then-President Trump, with this theory that then-president Mike Pence had the power to overturn the election results.
Tell us how that picture was fleshed out today.
So, today, we heard from Greg Jacob, who was former counsel to Vice President Pence at the time, as well as Judge Michael Luttig. Eastman was a clerk of Luttig's previously. And both of them testified that Eastman's theory was not legal, not constitutional, and that it also had no historical precedent.
Despite all of that, Eastman continued to push this theory that — and his plan that Pence could overturn the election results by simply rejecting the slate of electors that were sent to Congress by the states. And what we heard from Jacob today in testimony was that, in his conversations with Eastman, Eastman acknowledged, either tacitly or directly, that his plan was not legal.
Greg Jacob, Former Counsel to Vice President Mike Pence: And he said: "Absolutely. Al Gore did not have a basis to do it in 2000. Kamala Harris shouldn't be able to do it in 2024. But I think you should do it today."
When I pressed him on the point, I said: "John, if the vice president did what you were asking him to do, we would lose 9-0 in the Supreme Court, wouldn't we?"
And he initially started: "Well, maybe you would only lose 7-2," and after some further discussion, acknowledged: "Well, yes, you're right. We would lose 9-0."
Despite all of those acknowledgments from Eastman that Jacob recounted, Eastman continue to push Pence's team, which Jacob was a part of, as well as the vice president himself, to go forward with this plan.
And what the committee showed us today in the testimony from Jacob, as well as from Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, which they had taped deposition from, was that both Jacob and Short talked about what Eastman did in the lead-up to January 6.
So, on January 5, Eastman met with Jacob in the White House complex, not far from where I'm standing right now. And Eastman directly asked Jacob: We need Pence to outright reject the electors.
Now, later on in the day, because it became clear to Eastman that Pence was not going to do that and was adamantly refusing to go along with this plan, Eastman again asked Pence's team, well — trying to convince them another way. If you don't want to outright reject the electors, will you simply send the electors back to the states, so that way they can send new ones to Congress and again?
And, again, Pence's team refused all of this. And so the big takeaway here, Judy, is that, after these repeated attempts in the days leading — the day right before January 6, President Trump still on January 6 launched a very public pressure campaign for Pence to go forward with this plan.
And then, Lisa, we get to January the 6th. We learn new details today about what exactly happened that day, the danger to the vice president himself.
That pressure campaign that Laura was talking about happening at the White House happened as things — right leading up to January 6 and what happened here at the Capitol. And what the committee laid out today, in terms of what happened on January 6, speaks to President Trump's intent. At least, that's what they're trying to get across.
And they were directly connecting President Trump's actions, the tweets he sent, and the timing on that day, and what happened here at the Capitol. In particular, as the riot raged here at the Capitol on this complex, the committee said that they have evidence that the president was told that the riot was happening, that staff around him were discussing him trying to tweet — asking him to tweet out something to calm his followers.
But, instead, here's what happened when Chief of Staff Mark Meadows took the news to the president, according to the committee, that a riot was happening at the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA):
The testimony further establishes that Mr. Meadows quickly informed the president, and that he did so before the president and that he did so before the president issued his 2:24 p.m. tweet criticizing Vice President Pence for not having — quote — "courage" to do what needed to be done.
Here's what the president wrote in his 2:24 p.m. tweet, while the violence at the Capitol was going on, and here's what the rioters thought:
Pence voted against Trump.
OK, and that's when all this started?
Yes, that's when we marched on the Capitol.
Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America!
Mike Pence has betrayed this president and he has betrayed the people of the United States! And will never, ever forget!
The committee also showed photos of what was happening with the vice president, depicting him going into the underground bunker, all of those steps that were taken. There he is on the phone, seeing the tweet from President Trump, described as frustrated that the president was not taking other action to try and disperse the crowd more quickly.
And it's interesting. His — Greg Jacob that Laura spoke about earlier was asked specifically his reaction to the news that he saw today that the rioters were within 40 feet of him and the vice president. Here's what he said.
Rep. Pete Aguilar:
Does it surprise you to see how close the mob was to the evacuation route that you took? Forty feet is a distance from me to you, roughly.
I could hear the din of the rioters in the building while we moved. But I don't think I was aware that they were as close as that.
All of this the case showing that there was imminent danger to the vice president. And the case that their committee is trying to make is that that came from the White House.
And we do know that, despite all that, the vice president, the rest of members of Congress came back. They did certify that night the vote count, the electoral vote count.
But, Laura, the pressure campaign continued the next day.
The very next day, John Eastman called Eric Herschmann, White House attorney, and said that there were other avenues that the president, that his legal team could pursue to try to overturn the election. And so Herschmann in testimony today recounted that conversation here.
Eric Herschmann, Former White House Attorney:
Eventually, he said: "Orderly transition."
I said: "Good, John. Now I'm going to give you the best free legal advice you're ever getting in your life. Get a great F'ing criminal defense lawyer. You're going to need it."
And then I hung up on him.
And so what that testimony shows is that also, right after that, again, we're seeing this acknowledgement from Eastman that the plan he was pursuing was not legal, and that he likely knew that it was not legal, because then he e-mails a few days after January 6 Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer to the president, saying that he would like to be put on the president's pardon list, if possible.
That was a revelation that came out today in the hearing that we had not previously seen.
And then finally, Lisa, put some of this into the larger context here in terms of what Democrats are trying to do.
When you speak with Democrats on the committee and the staff and the two members who are on the committee, we know that they are building a case here. They are raising questions.
And some of them openly say they believe that this president, former President Trump, should be indicted should face criminal charges. That's audience number one, the Department of Justice and the decisions being made there.
Audience two is still the American public. And I noticed something interesting today. This committee is really trying to broadly reach out and hit different areas of interest for the American public. For example, when we talked about Greg Jacob and his — the moment where he was in that bunker when they were fleeing the mob, an interesting question came up from the Democrats on this committee.
They asked him about him turning to prayer in that moment, and here's what he said he was thinking about as the riot was raging not far from them.
My faith really sustained me through it. I, down in the secure location, pulled out my Bible, read through it, and just took great comfort.
Daniel 6 was where I went. He refuses in order from the king that he cannot follow. And he does his duty, in — consistent with his oath to God, and I felt that that's what had played out that.
Daniel 6, many people will know that's Daniel in the lion's den.
This obviously was a genuine personal reflection from this man, but, also, it does have some political connotations. A very large part of President Trump's base includes people who are fervently religious, strong Christian believers. And, here, what the committee was saying is, this kind of Christian idea was held by the vice president at the time. And here's someone who believes that the former President Trump was acting in the opposite, ungodly way.
So there are a lot of dynamics here in play today that the committee is thinking about.
A lot of dynamics and a sobering day.
Lisa Desjardins, Laura Barron-Lopez, we thank you both.
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