WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn his 2020 election defeat came into ever-clearer focus Thursday, with testimony describing his pressuring Vice President Mike Pence in vulgar private taunts and public entreaties to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the run-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Trump’s closest advisers viewed his last-ditch efforts to halt congressional certification of his loss as “nuts,” “crazy” and even likely to incite riots if Pence followed through, witnesses revealed in stark testimony Thursday.
The panel revealed how Trump put his vice president in danger as Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, when the defeated president sent his supporters to the Capitol to “fight like hell” over his false claims of a fraudulent election.
Rioters came within 40 feet of the spot at the Capitol where Pence and others fled. Never-before-shown photos showed Pence and his team sheltering.
Pence’s counsel Greg Jacob testified that he could “hear the din” of the rioters nearby. Asked whether Trump ever checked on Pence during the siege, Jacob said, “He did not.”
The panel held its third hearing this month aiming to demonstrate that Trump’s repeated false claims and desperate attempt to stay in power led directly to the Capitol insurrection.
Trump latched onto conservative law professor John Eastman’s obscure plan to defy historical precedent of the Electoral Count Act and reverse Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump aides and allies warned bluntly in private about his efforts, even as some publicly continued to stand by the president’s false election claims.
“Are you out of your effing mind?” Eric Herschmann, a lawyer advising Trump, told Eastman in recorded testimony shown at the hearing.
“You’re going to turn around and tell 78-plus-million people in this country that your theory is, this is how you’re going to invalidate their votes?” Herschmann said. He warned, “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.”
Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said those around Trump called the plan “crazy.”
The committee has said the plan was illegal, and a federal judge has said “more likely than not” Trump committed crimes in his attempt to stop the certification. Eastman later sought to be “on the pardon list,” according to an email he sent to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, shared by the panel.
In a social media post Thursday, Trump decried the hearings anew as a “witch hunt,” lambasted coverage by “the Fake News Networks” and exclaimed, “I DEMAND EQUAL TIME!!!”
On Capitol Hill, panel Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., cited Pence’s own words that there was “almost no idea more un-American” than the one he was being asked to follow – reject Americans’ votes.
By refusing Trump’s demands, Pence “did his duty,” said the panel’s vice-chair, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
The panel heard from Jacob, the vice president’s counsel who fended off Eastman’s ideas for Pence, and retired federal judge Michael Luttig, who called the plan from Eastman, his former law clerk, “incorrect at every turn.”
Jacob said it became clear to Pence from the start that the founding fathers did not intend to empower any one person to affect the election result, and he “never budged.”
Luttig, a conservative scholar, said in a halting voice but firm terms that had Pence obeyed Trump’s orders, declaring “Trump as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis in America.”
The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, testified about the “heated” phone call he had with Pence that morning in the Oval Office. Another aide, Nicholas Luna, said he heard Trump call Pence a “wimp.” Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff, Julie Radford, said she was told the president called Pence “the p-word.”
In another development Thursday, Thompson said the panel will ask Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for an interview amid disclosures of the conservative activist’s communications with people in Trump’s orbit ahead of the attack.