Pence’s ‘courage’ prevented Trump overturning election, January 6 committee says

Donald Trump was prevented from overturning the 2020 presidential election because of the “courage” of his vice-president Mike Pence, a congressional committee has heard.

Members of the bipartisan panel investigating the attack on the US Congress opened their third public hearing on Thursday, focusing the session on the role Pence played in thwarting his former boss.

Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the committee, said: “We are fortunate for Mr Pence’s courage. On January 6, our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put [Pence] in tremendous danger.”

Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair, said: “Vice-president Pence understood that his oath of office was more important than his loyalty to Donald Trump. He did his duty; President Trump unequivocally did not.”

Committee members were due to hear from two of Pence’s former legal advisers, Greg Jacob and Michael Luttig, who were expected to testify that the former vice-president believed Trump’s attempt to overturn the election was illegal.

Committee officials said the hearing would focus on how to form president Trump and his allies allegedly put pressure on Pence to reject the election results from certain states where his opponent Joe Biden had won. They also suggested they would show that such behavior could classify as a criminal offence.

One committee aide said before the hearing: “We’re going to focus on the pressure campaign on former vice-president Pence, driven by the former president, even as advice was swirling around the White House, saying that the scheme was illegal.”

They added: “We’re going to show that that pressure campaign directly contributed to the attack on the Capitol, and that it put the vice-president’s life in danger.”

Thursday’s hearing is the third in a week, as members of the bipartisan panel lay out their findings to voters for the first time.

The second session focused on election night itself, and how Trump insisted the vote had been rigged despite the advice of many of his inner circle.

Thursday’s hearing is focused instead on the way in which John Eastman, one of Trump’s lawyers, allegedly argued that Pence should not formally certify Biden’s electoral victory during a Senate session on January 6. It was that session that protesters were trying to interrupt when they stormed the building in what became a riot.

Committee officials said they would show that Eastman’s legal argument was wrong, and that Trump’s repeated promotion of it helped lead to the violence on that day. They also suggested this could even lead to charges against Eastman.

In a video preview of the hearing, a clip shows former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann recalling telling Eastman the day after January 6: “Get a great effing criminal defense lawyer, you’re going to need it.”

Meanwhile the committee continues to battle with Barry Loudermilk, the Republican representative from Georgia, over whether he should testify in front of the committee.

Thompson wrote to Loudermilk on Thursday urging him to provide information about a tour of Congress he appeared to give the day before the riot to someone who the committee believed went on to take part in the march.

Some of those investigating the violence have previously questioned how protesters seemed to have such a good knowledge of where to find unmarked offices in the labyrinthine building.

Loudermilk responded on Twitterwriting: “Nothing about this visit with constituents [on January 5] was suspicious.” He did not say whether he would testify in front of the committee, however.

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