We air highlights from the third public hearing of the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which revealed that President Trump pressured Vice President Pence to overturn the 2020 election results even though he knew it was illegal. The hearing included testimony from Pence’s attorney, Greg Jacob, who said the plan’s main architect, attorney John Eastman, actively admitted his strategy violated the law, and yet continued anyway. Right-wing legal expert Michael Luttig advised Pence against following Trump’s orders, calling Trump and his supporters a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the third public hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. On Thursday, committee members revealed in detail how Donald Trump knew his plan to overturn the 2020 election was illegal, but pushed his vice president, Mike Pence, to take part in what the committee has described as an attempted coup. But Pence refused to take part after Trump asked him to unilaterally reject the Electoral College results on January 6th.
The committee also revealed the architect of Trump’s plan, attorney John Eastman, also knew the plan was illegal, but pushed it anyway — and later sought a pardon for himself.
Witnesses testifying live on Thursday included Michael Luttig, a retired judge, one of the most influential right-wing legal experts.
MICHAEL LUTTIG: In short, if I had been advising the vice president of the United States on January 6th, and even if then-Vice President Jefferson and even then-Vice President John Adams and even then-Vice President Richard Nixon had done exactly what the president of the United States wanted his vice president to do, I would have laid my body across the road before I would have let the vice president overturn the 2020 election on the basis of that historical precedent.
AMY GOODMAN: Retired Judge Luttig described Trump as a “clear and present danger to American democracy.” He warned Trump and allies will also attempt to overturn the 2024 election if they lose, saying this time they may succeed.
We’re going to go now back to the beginning, to the opening statements at the hearing by Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, but first, the vice chair of the committee, Liz Cheney, the Republican of Wyoming.
REP. LIZ CHENEY: Let me take just a few minutes today to put the topic of our hearing in broader context. In our last hearing, we heard unequivocal testimony that President Trump was told his election fraud allegations were complete nonsense. We heard this from members of the Trump campaign. We heard this from President Trump’s campaign lawyers. We heard this from President Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr. We heard this from President Trump’s former acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen. And we heard this from President Trump’s former acting deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue. We heard from members of President Trump’s White House staff, as well.
Today we’re focusing on President Trump’s relentless effort to pressure Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes on January 6th. Here again is how the former vice president phrased it in a speech before the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers.
MIKE PENCE: I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election. But President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.
REP. LIZ CHENEY: What the president wanted the vice president to do was not just wrong, it was illegal and unconstitutional. We will hear many details in today’s hearing, but please consider these two points. First, President Trump was told repeatedly that Mike Pence lacks the constitutional and legal authority to do what President Trump was demanding he do. This is testimony from Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, who served in the Trump administration in multiple positions over four years.
INVESTIGATOR: But just to pick up on that, Mr. Short, is it — was it your impression that the vice president had directly conveyed his position on these issues to the president, not just to the world through a “dear colleague” letter, but directly to President Trump?
MARC SHORT: Many times.
INVESTIGATOR: And he’d been consistent in conveying his position to the president?
MARC SHORT: Very consistent.
REP. LIZ CHENEY: But President Trump plotted with a lawyer named John Eastman to pressure Pence to do so anyway. As the federal court has explained, quote, “Based on the evidence, the court finds that it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the joint session of Congress on January 6th, 2021.” What exactly did President Trump know — when exactly did President Trump know that it would be illegal for Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes? Here is one sample of testimony given by one of the witnesses before us today, the vice president’s general counsel.
INVESTIGATOR: Did John Eastman ever admit, as far as you know, in front of the president that his proposal would violate the Electoral Count Act?
GREG JACOB: I believe he did on the 4th.
REP. LIZ CHENEY: That was January 4th, two days before the attack on Congress.
A second point: Please listen to testimony today about all of the ways that President Trump attempted to pressure Vice President Pence, including Donald Trump’s tweet at 2:24 p.m. condemning Vice President Mike Pence, when President Trump already knew a violent riot was underway at the Capitol.
In future hearings, you will hear from witnesses who were present inside the White House, who were present inside the West Wing, on that day. But today we focus on the earnest efforts of Mike Pence, who was determined to abide by his oath of office. As Vice President Pence prepared a statement on January 5th and 6th explaining that he could not illegally refuse to count electoral votes, he said this to his staff.
GREG JACOB: I mean, the vice president had said, “This may be the most important thing I ever say.” And so —
INVESTIGATOR: “This” meaning the statement?
GREG JACOB: The statement. And he really wanted to make sure that it was just so.
REP. LIZ CHENEY: You will hear today that President Trump’s White House counsel believed that the vice president did exactly the right thing on January 6th, as did others in the White House, as did Fox News host Sean Hannity. 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. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: Without objection, I recognize the gentleman from California, Mr. Aguilar, for an opening statement.
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Today we intend to show the American people that January 6th was not an isolated incident. In the weeks culminating before, it was a legal scheme and deception. We’ve already learned that President Trump knew he lost the 2020 election. Shortly after, he began to look for a way to circumvent our country’s most fundamental civic tradition: the peaceful transfer of power.
The president latched on to a dangerous theory and would not let go, because he was convinced it would keep him in office. We witnessed firsthand what happened when the president of the United States weaponized this theory. The Capitol was overrun, police officers lost their lives, and the vice president was taken to a secure location because his safety was in jeopardy.
Let’s take a look at the effect of Donald Trump’s words and actions. I want to warn our audience that the video contains explicit content.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that will be a — a sad day for our country. And Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you, I will tell you right now.
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: I’m telling you what, I’m hearing that Pence — I’m hearing that Pence just caved.
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: No.
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: Is that true?
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: I didn’t hear anything.
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: I’m hearing — I’m hearing reports that Pence caved.
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: No way!
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: And I’m telling you, if Pence caved, we’re going to drag mother [bleep] through the streets! You [bleep] politicians are going to get [bleep] drug through the streets!
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: Yes!
CAPITOL RIOTER 3: I guess the hope is that there’s such a show of force here that Pence will decide to —
CAPITOL RIOTER 4: Just do his job.
CAPITOL RIOTER 3: — do the right thing, according to Trump.
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Bring him out! Hang him up! Where is Pence? Bring him out! Bring out Pence! Bring him out! Bring out Pence! Bring him out! Bring out Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
REP. PETE AGUILAR: How did we get to this point? How did we get to the point where President Trump’s most radical supporters led a violent attack on the Capitol and threatened to hang President Trump’s own vice president?
You’ll hear from witnesses that Donald Trump pressured Mike Pence to adopt a legally and morally bankrupt idea that the vice president could choose who the next president can be. You’ll hear about how the vice president, the White House counsel and others told Donald Trump that the vice president had no such authority.
But President Trump would not listen. You’ll hear how Vice President Pence withstood an onslaught of pressure from President Trump both publicly and privately, a pressure campaign that built to a fever pitch with a heated phone call on January 6th. You’ll also hear that the president knew there was a violent mob at the Capitol when he tweeted at 2:24 p.m. that the vice president did not have the, quote, “courage to do what needed to be done.”
Let me be clear: Vice President Pence did the right thing that day. He stayed true to his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: That was January 6th committee member Pete Aguilar’s opening statement at Thursday’s public hearing, following Liz Cheney and the chair of the House — of the January 6th select committee, Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat. Congressmember Aguilar went on to question Greg Jacob, the top White House lawyer for former Vice President Mike Pence. This was live questioning during the hearing. This is Congressman Aguilar.
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Testimony in our investigation has made clear what the target of the rioters’ ire was: Vice President Mike Pence. The rioters breached the Capitol at 2:13 p.m.
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Storm the castle! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Now let’s take a look at what was going on at the White House at this time. We received testimony that the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was notified of the violence at the Capitol by 2 p.m., and likely earlier. The testimony further establishes that Mr. Meadows quickly informed the president and that he did so before the president issued his 2:24 p.m. tweet criticizing Vice President Pence for not having, quote, “courage” to do what needed to be done. … And here is what the rioters thought.
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: Nothing but a traitor, and he deserves to burn with the rest of ’em.
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: So, this all escalated after Pence — what happened to Pence? Pence didn’t —
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: Yeah.
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: Pence didn’t do what we wanted.
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: Pence voted against Trump.
CAPITOL RIOTER 2: OK. And that’s when all this started?
CAPITOL RIOTER 1: Yup, that’s when we marched on the Capitol. We’ve been shot at with rubber bullets, tear gas.
CAPITOL RIOTER 3: We just heard that Mike Pence is not going to reject any fraudulent electoral votes!
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Boo!
CAPITOL RIOTER 4: You are a traitor!
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Boo!
CAPITOL RIOTER 3: That’s right. You’ve heard it here first. Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America!
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Boo!
CAPITOL RIOTER 4: Fuck you, Mike Pence!
CAPITOL RIOTER 3: Mike Pence has betrayed this president, and he has betrayed the people of the United States. And we will never, ever forget!
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Yeah!
CAPITOL RIOTER 5: It’s real simple. Pence betrayed us, which apparently everybody knew he was going to, and the president mentioned it like five times when he talked. You can go back and watch the president’s video.
CAPITOL RIOTER 6: This is our Capitol. Let’s be respectful to it. There’s 4 million people coming in. So, there’s a lot to control. We love you guys. We love the cops.
CAPITOL RIOTER 7: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!”
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Although the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has refused to testify before this committee, Mr. Meadows’ aide, Ben Williamson, and White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews testified that Mr. Meadows went to the dining room near the Oval Office to tell the president about the violence at the Capitol before the president’s 2:24 p.m. tweet. …
Our investigation found that immediately after the president’s 2:24 p.m. tweet, the crowds both outside the Capitol and inside the Capitol surged. The crowds inside the Capitol were able to overwhelm the law enforcement presence, and the vice president was quickly evacuated from his ceremonial Senate office to a secure location within the Capitol complex.
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Whose house? Our house! Whose house? Our house!
NARRATOR: By 2:24 p.m., the Secret Service had moved Vice President Pence from the Senate chamber to his office across the hall.
CHRIS HODGSON: The noise from the rioters became audible, at which point we recognized that maybe they had gotten into the building.
NARRATOR: Then President Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Bring him out! Bring out Pence! Bring him out! Bring out Pence!
SARAH MATTHEWS: It was clear that it was escalating, and escalating quickly.
CAPITOL RIOTERS: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
SARAH MATTHEWS: So, then, when that tweet, the Mike Pence tweet, was sent out, I remember us saying that that was the last thing that needed to be tweeted at that moment. The situation was already bad, and so it felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire by tweeting that.
NARRATOR: Thirty seconds later, rioters already inside the Capitol opened the East Rotunda door just down the hall. And just 30 seconds after that, rioters breached the crypt, one floor below the vice president.
CHRIS HODGSON: The Secret Service couldn’t control the situation and do their job of keeping him safe.
NARRATOR: At 2:26 p.m., Secret Service rush Vice President Pence down the stairs.
GREG JACOB: I think they had been trying to figure out whether they had a clear route to get us to where it was that they wanted to move us to.
CHRIS HODGSON: We moved pretty quickly down the stairs and through various hallways and tunnels to the secure location. Upon arriving there, there was further discussion as to whether or not we were going to leave the Capitol complex or stay where we were.
NARRATOR: Vice President Pence and his team ultimately were led to a secure location, where they stayed for the next four-and-a-half hours, barely missing rioters a few feet away.
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Approximately 40 feet, that’s all there was, 40 feet between the vice president and the mob. Mr. Jacob, you were there. Seeing that for the first time, does it surprise you to see how close the mob was to the evacuation route that you took? The 40 feet is the distance from me to you, roughly.
GREG JACOB: I could hear the din of the rioters in the building while we moved, but I don’t think I was aware that they were as close as that.
REP. PETE AGUILAR: Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president’s life was in danger. A recent court filing by the Department of Justice explains that a confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI that the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance. This witness, whom the FBI affidavit refers to as “W-1,” stated that other members of the group talked about things they did that day, and they said that anyone they got their hands on, they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi. W-1 further stated that members of the Proud Boys said that they would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic Congressmember Pete Aguilar.