With two witnesses on Thursday, the House panel intends to show how Trump’s false claims of a rigged election left him searching for alternatives as the courts rejected dozens of lawsuits challenging the vote.
Trump seized on the dark plan of conservative law professor John Eastman and launched a campaign of public and private pressure on Pence days before the vice president presided over the joint session of Congress on January 6 to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory. A federal judge has said it is “more likely than not” that Trump committed crimes in his attempt to stop the certification.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” the panel said in a Jan. 6 court filing against Eastman. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, the committee’s co-chair, said in her opening statement last week: “What President Trump demanded Mike Pence do was not only wrong, it was illegal and unconstitutional.”
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The committee will hear from Greg Jacob, the vice president’s attorney who rejected Eastman’s ideas for Pence to carry out the plan; and retired federal judge Michael Luttig, who called the plan by Eastman, his former paralegal, “wrong at all times.”
Thursday’s session is also expected to release new evidence about the danger Pence faced that day as crowds stormed the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” with a gallows on the Capitol grounds while the vice president fled with the senators to hide. Nine people died in the riot and its aftermath.
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The session is expected to show how Trump’s pressure on Pence “directly contributed” to the attack on Capitol Hill, according to a committee aide who insisted on anonymity to discuss the upcoming hearing.
Before the hearing, Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, said his boss was determined to stay on Capitol Hill that night and get the job done, despite the threats.
“He knew his job was to stay in his position,” Short said on CNN on Wednesday.
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Short said Pence didn’t want the world to see the vice president walk out of Capitol Hill when “a hallmark of democracy” was under siege.
“He thought it was important to stay there and make sure the work of the American people was completed that night,” said Short, who testified under subpoena before the committee for eight hours but has yet to appear as a live witness.
The panel reconvenes for a third hearing this month after a great start in prime time last week, followed by logistical hiccups in recent days. Monday’s key witness, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, abruptly refused to appear in person because his wife was in labor. Wednesday’s scheduled hearing with Justice Department witnesses who tried to convince Trump that his voter fraud claims were simply not true has been postponed.
Yet the panel’s year-long investigation shows Trump’s final weeks in office as the defeated president clinging to “the big lie” of a rigged election, even as those around him — his family, top advisers, officials at the highest levels of government) were telling him that he simply lost the election.
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Former Attorney General William Barr, who resigned at the end of 2020 rather than be a part of Trump’s plans, has previously testified that the president was “detaching himself from reality” if he believed the lies. He said he told the president that his claims of voter fraud were “nonsense.”
With 1,000 interviews and stacks of 140,000 documents, the committee is connecting the dots, showing how Trump’s false claims of voter fraud became a rallying cry when he called thousands of Americans to Washington for a rally on January 6 and then he sent them to the Capitol to “fight like hell” for his presidency.
More than 800 people have been arrested at the Capitol site, and the panel is considering sending criminal charges against Trump to the Justice Department. No president or former president has ever been indicted by the Justice Department, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that he and his team are following the proceedings in Congress.
For now, the panel is going ahead with its hearings, with more scheduled for next week.
On Thursday he will break down Eastman’s plan for states to submit alternative lists of voters from the five or seven states Trump was contesting, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. With competing slates for either Trump or Biden, Pence would be forced to reject them, sending them back to states to work out, according to the plan.
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Pence rejected the plan, believing the founding fathers would not have let one person, the vice president, decide the outcome, Jacob told the panel in earlier testimony. Jacob said the idea was totally against some 130 years of precedent in US history, “totally made up.”
In upcoming hearings, the committee will delve into the roles of extremist groups and others who responded to Trump’s call to Washington. Leaders and other members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys face rare charges of sedition for their role in the Capitol attack.
Several members of Congress are also under scrutiny, including Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Georgia, who was asked by the committee for an interview to talk about a tour of the Capitol he conducted that included underground tunnels to a group of people the day before the attack.
The panel is also investigating several candidates for elected office, including the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, who was among the troublemakers.
The panel, which is expected to deliver a final report on its findings later this year, intends its work to be a record in history for the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Unlike other national traumas that have brought the country together, the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill seems to have left many Americans divided. Congress was divided over the formation of the committee, which was opposed by most Republicans.
The two Republicans on the panel, Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, have been shunned by the GOP for their work with Democrats leading the Trump investigation and their role in the attack on Capitol Hill.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington and Farnoush Amiri in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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