When it came right down to it on Jan. 6, Mike Pence didn’t pull the trigger. Whether that was a demonstration of some sort of wisdom gleaned by consulting guru Dan Quayle or whether it just a fit of pique after several thousand Donald Trump supporters tried to lynch him, we don’t know. We likely never will know. But the sheer fact that Pence didn’t put a bullet into democracy when he had an opportunity has burnished his image as a Boy Scout who brushes his teeth with milk and Bible verses.
That image is not deserved. Before he picked up his shiny tiara as the man who saved the Republic, Pence was neck-deep in the plans to end the Republic. That doesn’t just include participating in White House meetings with Trump and Republican members of Congress to plot how they could throw a wrench into the process. It included, by Pence’s own admission, calling governors across the country as part of Trump’s scheme to reverse the outcome of the election.
And now Pence wants everyone to believe those calls came with “no pressure.”
On Sunday, Pence sat down on CBS’ Face the Nation to explain why he “repeatedly” called then-Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and others in the days after the election.
Pence: “Well, I think the record reflects that I did check in, with not only Governor Ducey, but other governors in states that were going through the legal process of reviewing their election results, but there was no pressure involved, Margaret. I was- I was calling to get an update. I passed along that information to the president and as I said, I think the- I think the record from that time, confirms all of that. Look, these states were going through a process after- after so much uncertainty about the election outcome in places like Arizona, in places like Georgia, states around the country, were going through the legal process of engaging in a- in- in a review under state law. I got updates on that, passed that along, and it was no more, no less than that.”
If this was supposed to be reassuring, it fails. If this is a contest to pack as many ridiculous claims as possible into a single statement, it’s a strong contender.
The reason CBS asked the question was because of reporting from The Washington Post on Saturday, which follows the same utterly laughable sequence.
Trump also repeatedly asked Vice President Mike Pence to call Ducey and prod him to find the evidence to substantiate Trump’s claims of fraud, according to two of these people. Pence called Ducey several times to discuss the election, they said, though he did not follow Trump’s directions to pressure the governor.
So, according to both the Post report and Pence’s own statement, things went like this: Trump called Ducey and directly pressured him to change the results of the election, which President Joe Biden won by over 10,000 votes. Though the margin of victory was just 0.3%, it represented the first time a Democrat had won the state since Clinton carried it in 1996. It was only the second time a Democrat won Arizona since Harry Truman. It’s possible to read that as Biden being an exceptionally strong candidate in the state … or as Trump being particularly reviled.
That 0.3% margin was far above the 0.1% threshold for a recount in Arizona. Arizona law also doesn’t allow candidates to request a recount. However, it does allow citizens to directly contest election results in state court on the basis of “misconduct” or the counting of “illegal votes.”
Trump promptly found supporters to make such claims. The state attorney general, a Trump-supporting Republican, agreed to a recount. As a result, a hand audit of results was conducted. The election was Nov. 3. That hand audit of the ballots was completed by Nov. 7. That audit confirmed Biden’s victory.
Exactly how Trump leaned on Ducey isn’t known. Unlike Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the call to Ducey wasn’t recorded, so we can’t be sure if Trump told the Arizona governor to “find the votes” or throw out some results. We only know that Trump wanted the numbers changed.
And then Pence called Ducey “repeatedly” just to “check in” and “get an update.” Because being an errand boy was apparently his job.
The idea that any call from the White House comes with “no pressure” is ludicrous.
The idea that getting an update on the status of the election in Arizona meant that Mike Pence should be directly calling the governor is even more ludicrous.
Had there been any updated results to deliver, this is something that might easily have been carried out by the lowest-level staffer.
There were no updates.
As of Nov. 7, the few ballots still in dispute at counties around Arizona were much less than the margin of Biden’s victory, making it utterly impossible for Trump to reverse the results. The hand audit was finalized on Nov. 17. Between then and Nov. 30 when the results in Arizona were officially certified by the secretary of state, there were no changes to the numbers in Arizona. There wasn’t even a mechanism for change.
On Nov. 13, Trump’s legal team dropped the lawsuit it had filed in Arizona after a judge ruled that the hand audit of votes made it unnecessary. For all the claims about Sharpies, overvotes, and illegal ballots, there was no provision in Arizona for doing any further recount because there was no evidence to support it.
Republicans would change that. A new law in Arizona now makes it much easier for a candidate to ask for a recall. And the Arizona legislature was behind the Maricopa County recount, conducted by Republican firms with no experience in recounts or voting machines, that would run all the way until the following September before determining, again, that Biden won. But all that was in the future.
When Pence was calling Ducey “for updates,” there were no updates to be had. So why was Pence actually calling? What was he asking? And how in the hell can anyone believe this didn’t represent pressure on Ducey?
Imagine this in any other setting. Your boss calls you and tells you he wants you to accept a position in a distant city. Then his assistant repeatedly calls you to ask how things are going with thinking about that new job. But, you know, no pressure. A local real estate developer calls you and leans on you to sell your property. Then one of his agents phones you up day by day to ask how the deal is coming along. But hey, no pressure.
Whatever setting you’re imagining, don’t forget that the conversation starts with a call from a staffer who announces that there is an incoming call from the White House, and then asks you to “hold for the vice president.” Who then informs you he’s calling on behalf of the president.
Pence was repeatedly calling Ducey—we don’t know how many times, or on what dates, but it’s a pretty good bet that the number was more than two or three and the dates were well after there was no reason to check election results. We do know that Ducey said he had talked to Trump in December, weeks after the vote in Arizona had been certified and the slate of Biden electors was assembled. Was Pence still calling Ducey at that point? If so, exactly what kind of update was he asking about?
After Nov. 7, there really was no update for Pence to obtain when it came to election results. The only update to be obtained was “what’s your status on knuckling under to Trump and helping him overturn the outcome?”
Ducey has, for now at least, refused to answer specific questions about his calls with Trump and Pence. Considering the very real pressure Trump supporters in and out of government have applied to every Republican official who failed to go along with Trump’s overthrow attempts, it’s completely understandable that Ducey wouldn’t want to talk without the shield of some legal obligation to do so. So far, special counsel Jack Smith has not called on Ducey to appear before his Washington, D.C., grand jury.
Smith should get on with that.
In the meantime, it would be nice if journalists would stop pretending that Pence’s calls to Ducey and other Republicans who were engaged in fighting off Trump lawsuits and wading through angry Trump supporters didn’t represent pressure. Or that Pence was somehow uninvolved in the scheme to overturn the election.