On January 6, 2021, former Vice President Mike Pence was just 40 feet away from the mob hellbent on killing him if they got his hands on him. John Eastman, the attorney who penned and pushed the strategy for Trump to overturn the results by laser-focusing pressure on Pence, sought a pardon after the insurrection. Lawyers in the White House feared the scheme could end in bloodshed. And if all had gone according to plan, a federal judge testified to the Jan. 6 Committee under oath on Thursday, America would have been plunged into “a revolution within a constitutional crisis.”
The January 6 Committee’s third public hearing was packed to the rafters with evidence that can be called nothing short of positively damning for former President Donald Trump and all of those who aided or abetted the attempt to unconstitutionally delay or altogether overturn the results of the 2020 election.
One of the largest revelations to emerge Thursday was Eastman’s pursuit of a pardon from the 45th president. The committee has alleged that multiple individuals, including members of Congress, like Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, sought pardons after the attack, fearful of what may lie around the corner.
We talk to expert Brandi Buchman about everything you need to know for the Jan. 6 committee, hearings, and investigation on Daily Kos' The Brief podcast
Perry has vehemently denied seeking a pardon but Eastman’s email made public Thursday indicates that a list may have been “in the works” for those seeking Trump’s commutation before he finally scuttled away from the White House.
The email was sent from Eastman to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney and the leader of the “alternate elector” scheme that Trump’s push to overturn the results hinged upon.
Rep. Peter Aguilar, a California Democrat and member of the select committee, read a portion of the email aloud.
“Third, I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list if that is still in the works,” Eastman wrote on Jan. 9, 2021.
In public, the longtime conservative attorney made repeated justifications to have Pence obstruct Congress on Jan. 6 when lawmakers would meet for the joint session. Eastman even called for the vice president to overturn the results when he took the stage alongside Giuliani at the rally at the Ellipse.
But in private, Eastman’s feelings were far different.
In contemporaneous notes and emails obtained by the committee during its months-long court battle with Eastman over his records, Eastman consistently expressed doubt that his strategy was legal.
In phone conversations, White House officials like Pence’s counsel Greg Jacob testified Thursday, Eastman even went so far as to acknowledge that if somehow Pence had overturned the election results on Jan. 6 and that was somehow brought to a challenge at the Supreme Court, the justices would rule against him, 9-0.
No one would go along with the plan.
Jacob remarked on what could have been if the scheme would have totally succeeded.
“Who knows what would have happened in the streets,” Jacob said, noting there would be significant short and long-term consequences including total chaos at every branch of government.
“In the long term, it would have established that a vice president could change the outcome of an election,” Greg Jacob testified. “That would be antithetical to the rule of law.”
Eastman sent the request to Giuliani just two days after White House counsel Eric Herschmann starkly warned him: “Get a great fucking criminal defense lawyer, you’re going to need it.”
In the end, Eastman did testify before the committee but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to more than 100 questions. He refused to answer questions on whether he advised Trump that Pence had the authority to reject electoral slates and he would not answer a single question about the six-point memo he prepared laying out the Pence pressure strategy step by step.
Jacob also testified about an email Eastman sent him just before midnight on Jan. 6. The Capitol had only been cleared of the mob for a few hours and lawmakers were still going through the count as objections were being aired.
Eastman wrote in his email to Jacob that there had been an apparent violation of the Electoral Count Act that day since both the House and Senate had debated objections for more than two hours.
Eastman told Jacob the vice president should go ahead and adjourn the session.
The Electoral Count Act, Eastman wrote, was “not quite so sacrosanct as was previously claimed.”
Jacob and Pence had spent the days leading up to the 6th researching and evaluating every available piece of legislative text or theory on the Electoral Count Act.
There was nothing that would allow Pence to be the “ultimate arbiter,” as Eastman once suggested in his memo presented to Trump and Pence during a meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 4.
“I implore you to consider one more relatively minor violation and adjourn for 10 days to allow the legislatures to finish their investigations,” Eastman wrote to Jacob.
Once Pence saw the email a couple days later, Jacob told the committee the former vice president described it as a “rubber room stuff.”
“I understood it to mean that after having seen it play out, what happens when you convince people that there is a decision to be made in the Capitol legitimately about who is to be the President and the consequences of that—he was still pushing us to do what he had been asking us to do for the previous two days,” Jacob said. “That was certifiably crazy.”
During questioning by committee investigative counsel John Wood, Wood elicited testimony from Jacob about an email he sent to Eastman where Jacob asked if Trump was ever told that the vice president simply does not have the authority to unilaterally decide the election’s outcome.
“it does not appear that Trump got the memo,” Jacob wrote.
Eastman responded by telling Jacob that once Trump had something in his head, “it’s hard to get him to change course.”
Beyond the bombshell testimony laid out against Eastman Thursday, the committee also newly revealed photos of Pence during the attack. Daily Kos previously requested those photographs through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The photographs showed Pence in the basement of the Capitol Visitor’s Center garage after he refused to climb into a limousine that was prepared to whisk him away from the Capitol. Pence, his counsel told the committee, was deeply worried about the optics of a vice president fleeing and he was uncertain what would happen if he did.
in the photo published Thursday, Pence is seen looking at his phone while Trump tweeted a video heaping praise on the hordes of his supporters that stormed the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
Pence was led out of the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 just as rioters were about to breach the building. He was rushed to a room near the chamber with his family and aides, including Jacob. His detail moved him next to the Capitol Visitor Center garage.
It was there that Pence came within the rioters by just 40 feet. It was U.S. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman who redirected the mob, ultimately giving Pence more of a berth. Had Goodman not done that, the mob would have run straight down a corridor containing the room where Pence was sheltering in place.
In a particularly chilling moment during the hearing, Rep. Aguilar underlined the very real peril Pence found himself in that day. And how much worse things could have been.
A confidential informant for the extremist Proud Boys told the FBI in an affidavit first filed last year that “Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given the chance.”
Affidavit re: Pezzola by Daily Kos on Scribd
That same informant referred specifically to Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola by his nickname, “Spaz” as being a part of that group that would have killed Pence once putting eyes on him.
Pezzola, the committee showed in video Thursday, was one of the first to breach the Capitol and usher others in behind him. He is currently facing seditious conspiracy charges alongside Proud Boys ringleader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio.
The heat was turned all the way up on Pence ahead of the insurrection and no one put the squeeze on the vice president quite like Trump did that day.
Between multiple tweets demanding Pence have “the courage” to overturn the election to goading of his veep during a speech at the Ellipse, Trump didn’t let up on the vice president.
And now, new evidence uncovered Thursday appears to show that Trump took it upon himself to make sure Pence knew how he felt and what he needed in order to extend his stay illegally at the White House.
The committee announced that its investigation turned up early drafts of Trump’s Ellipse speech and:
“Our investigation found that early drafts of the Jan. 6 Ellipse speech prepared for the president included no mention of the vice president, but the president revised it to include criticism of the vice president and then further ad-libbed,” Rep. Pete Aguilar said.
Significant to note is that Trump did all of this despite receiving advice for weeks from his most trusted advisers and appointees that the data simply didn’t bear out his claims: there was no widespread fraud that rigged the election against him.
On Jan. 6, Trump tweeted at Pence at 1 a.m., and again at 8:17 a.m, urging him to send back electoral slates to the states as Eastman has advised.
Pence was at his residence with staff and Secret Service. He had spent the previous day taking counsel from J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge, who advised him that there was no way the vice president could legally intervene during the count.
Trump was at the White House surrounded by his family and staff. Pence was preparing his statement, ready to announce publicly that he would not do what Trump demanded because the Constitution would not permit it.
In a video deposition by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and onetime adviser said she remembered hearing her father use the word “wimp” when speaking to Pence. Others in the room testified that Trump called Pence the “p-word.”
White House counsel Herschmann said the conversation became “heated,” though he could only hear Trump’s side.
When Pence hung up, Jacob said the vice president returned to his staff “steely, determined and grim.”
Other details emerged Thursday, including testimony about the shock and disappointment felt by Pence’s staff when the Trump, on Jan. 5, issued a statement saying that he and Pence were in “total agreement” that the veep could overturn the election results.
Pence’s chief of staff went straight to Jason Miller, Trump’s aide and communications director.
Miller told the committee at deposition that Short asked him how he ended up with a statement saying Pence and Trump were aligned on this when Pence’s office had made it abundantly clear during a previous meeting with the president that they would not support the gambit.
Short asked Miller what his policy was for releasing statements where only two people were present.
Trump, Miller testified, “dictated” the statement to him in large part.
“I know with specificity on this one that it was me and him on the phone talking through it and ultimately the way this came out was the way he wanted to,” Miller said.
Praise was heaped on Pence by members of the committee.
“Mike Pence said no. He resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong,” chairman Thompson said at the top of the hearing. “We’re fortunate for Mr. Pence’s courage on Jan. 6. Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe.”
Retired federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig put a fine point on Eastman’s strategy.
In assessing Eastman’s strategies and theories, Luttig said “there was no support whatsoever in either the Constitution of the United States or the laws of the United States or the vice president, frankly, ever to count alternative electoral slates from the states that had not been officially certified by the designated state official in the Electoral Count Act of 1887,”
Luttig told the committee that “democracy today is on a knife’s edge.”
America went to war on Jan. 6 but not against a foreign power, he said.
“She was at war against herself,” Luttig said.
And the threat is far from over.
Donald Trump, his allies, and supporters present a “clear and present danger to American democracy,” he said.
And they are preparing to do it again in 2024, he added.
The next hearing is scheduled for June 21 at 1 p.m. ET and another to follow on June 23, also at 1 p.m. ET. At the next hearing, the committee is expected to get into the details behind the alternate electors and will unravel the pressure campaign that targeted state legislatures in battleground states. There will also be testimony soon from members of the Justice Department who resisted Trump’s efforts to pump disinformation about the 2020 election direct from that agency.
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