Editor’s note: Jill Filipovic is a New York-based journalist and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind”. Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more opinion on CNN.
On Thursday, as the January 6 hearings entered their third day, two things were clarified: Former Vice President Mike Pence privately pushed back against former President Donald Trump’s attempts to invalidate the results of an election free and fair, but he did not speak publicly at the time, and Trump seemed fully on board with the prospect of a coup.
It was also the story of the Trump presidency – a megalomaniac leader surrounded by sycophants and cowards who enabled his worst behavior.
Here is how the House subcommittee presented this case. He argued that John Eastman, a right-wing law professor, offered a far-fetched legal theory that Pence had the power to overrule the presidential election results. Almost everyone around him disagreed, but Eastman was saying what Trump wanted to hear, and so Eastman had Trump’s ear – and seems to have been happy to bend it to confirm that Trump’s lie about a stolen election had an easy fix.
But even Eastman himself knew what he was proposing was unconstitutional; he said so when, according to the testimony of Pence’s White House attorney, Greg Jacob, he confirmed to Jacob that if his plan went through, the Supreme Court would rule against it. Eastman reportedly initially said he thought the decision could be 7-2 – a likely reference to Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, the court’s two most consistent pro-GOP judges, and an unintended right-hander impeachment of the court.
According to Jacob, Eastman later conceded the vote would likely be 9-0. And yet Eastman continued to push his theory anyway, and the former president went on to embrace it publicly, telling his enraged supporters on Jan. 6, “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. “.
According to Pence’s attorney and members of his team, Pence did the right thing: He rejected Trump’s requests to refuse to certify the election results. This put the former vice president in danger. His former chief of staff, Marc Short, testified that he briefed Pence’s security details so that they were “aware that probably, as these disagreements became more public, the president would lash out in some way.” or another”.
And that’s what he did. According to testimony released during Thursday’s hearings, Trump learned that the Jan. 6 protests had turned into a riot and that rioters had entered the Capitol building, where Pence was staying. After being so informed, Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the guts to do what should have been done.”
“It was like he was pouring gasoline on the fire tweeting that,” former White House aide Sarah Matthews testified. The rioters continued to chant “hang Mike Pence”. And an informant told law enforcement that members of the Proud Boys were prepared to kill Pence or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if they got their hands on either.
In the meantime, Pence was taken to a secure location in the Capitol complex, where, according to Jacob, he refused to get into a car as instructed by the Secret Service, saying he would not let the world see the deputy. then-president fleeing the Capitol as it was besieged. At no time did the president call to check on Pence or his wife, who had fled for their lives.
Trump eventually tweeted that the rioters should “go home.” Pence returned to the House floor and certified the election results. Notably, 147 Republicans opposed: Even after the Capitol attack, they voted to overturn the 2020 election results.
After the dust of the insurgency settled, many of the actors involved in this story seemed to realize the gravity of what they had done. “Get a great criminal defense attorney, you’ll need it,” said Eric Herschmann, Trump’s former White House attorney. said he told Eastman.
He seems to have heeded most of the advice to protect himself, if not the exact directive. Eastman emailed former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani saying, “I have decided that I should be on the pardon list, if this is still ongoing.”
During its investigation, the committee subpoenaed Eastman to testify, which he did in closed interviews, but Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California testified during the hearing that Eastman invoked the fifth amendment 100 times when asked questions during these interviews. . He also shared several thousand pages of emails with the committee, though he resisted handing over any documents.
Overall, the hearings were engaging and the Committee members told an effective and damning story of what happened on January 6 and the days leading up to it. The clear conclusion is that Trump wanted ultimate power and was willing to do anything — including risking his vice president’s life and plotting a potential coup — to get it.
But, in telling this story, the committee made Pence a hero, a sort of last man standing between a quasi-dictator and American democracy. This story is not entirely true. Pence behaved admirably, and even bravely, at times in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and during the attack itself — his decision not to leave the Capitol is certainly to be commended.
Now, however, Trump and his allies are gearing up to do it again. As conservative former Fourth Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig put it in his closing remarks, “To this day, the former president and his allies and supporters promise that if the former president or his successor anoints as Republican Party presidential candidate were to lose this election, that they would attempt to void this 2024 election the same way they attempted to void the 2020 election, but would succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020 . »
And where is Pence?
He is largely silent on the current threat to American democracy. While Pence rightly did not give in to Trump and publicly confirmed that Trump was mistaken about Pence’s ability to refuse to certify the election results, he also did not risk his own future. politics by doing the right thing: holding the former president — and his own party — to account not only for Jan. 6, but also for the lies about the 2020 election that they continue to perpetuate.
And here’s the reality: Republicans who continue to deny that Biden won the 2020 election are being chosen as their party’s nominees for a range of elective positions — including many positions that would give them the power to meddle in future elections. Too many in Pence’s party have not only backed Trump; they’ve gone all-in on the lie that the last presidential election was illegitimate, and may be willing to do what Pence wouldn’t do: install Trump, or another Republican, in a position of power — regardless of the true vote count. ballot papers.
In fact, while Pence held firm on the narrow question of whether he had the power to overturn the election, he still tried to endear himself to his former boss’s fans, reiterating his support for the president and even touting the “Trump-Pence Program.
It makes a normal person want to make sense of it: He’s a guy who put your life in danger! He didn’t seem to care that you were killed! And it irks someone concerned about the future of American democracy: if the most powerful person who knows so intimately the magnitude of the stakes does not publicly and consistently name the dangerous undemocratic forces within his own party, that is there hope to ensure that January 6 was a one-time event and not a harbinger of worse things to come?
These riots took place because “people in positions of power put their political party before their country,” Aguilar said Thursday. He’s right – and we’re watching it all happen again.