When the House committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021, meets Thursday, the most senior member of House leadership on the panel will be in an unusual position: praising a leader of the opposing party.
The hearing will focus on the intense pressure exerted by then-President Trump and conservative lawyer John Eastman on then-Vice President Mike Pence to either reject some states’ Electoral College votes or delay Congress to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“Mike Pence has done his job,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) told The Times. “He did his job throughout. He did not hesitate in his reading of the Constitution. Even after all this, the President of the United States still used every method to insult him, challenge him, and summon a mob to catch him.
With the help of committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the four-term California congressman will take the lead in presenting the panel’s case Thursday , arguing that it would have been disastrous for the country had Pence not bought into the vice president’s largely ceremonial role in vote counting, and instead embraced Trump’s theory that he could be an arbiter over whether state votes were acceptable.
“If the vice president had succumbed to pressure, or if the vice president said he or she was more loyal to the president than to the Constitution, we would have had a constitutional crisis that would have threatened the republic,” said Aguilar.
Aguilar said he sees the value of having someone in a position of political leadership to make the point.
“It’s important as a fan to say the vice president did his job,” he said.
The House committee’s mandate includes proposing potential legislation, such as more clearly defining or limiting the role of the vice president, he said, “but this story is also that some people have done what needed when we needed it”.
Depositions already released by the committee show Trump tried to persuade Pence to interfere in the presidential election in private Oval Office meetings on Jan. 4 and 5 and in a call on the morning of Jan. 6. The pressure campaign continued in public, with Trump lambasting Pence in his Jan. 6 speech before the Capitol attack and tweeting to supporters during the riot that Pence “didn’t have the guts to do what would have had to be done”.
“What the former president was willing to sacrifice – potentially the vice president – to stay in power is quite shocking,” Aguilar said.
He said the committee overlaid the route along which Pence was evacuated with a second-by-second timeline of where the rioters were in the building.
“The number of steps that separated them is very small,” Aguilar said.
Most alarming to him, he said, is a clip the panel will show Thursday of a rioter who is cooperating with the Justice Department.
“We are going to hear a witness who says that if they had found [Pence]they probably would have killed him,” Aguilar said.
Greg Jacob, who as Pence’s chief counsel was present as Eastman and Trump pushed the vice president to intervene, is among the witnesses scheduled to testify Thursday. Jacob was also with Pence inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, arguing with Eastman over email during the riot over who was responsible for the violence.
“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss failed to do what was necessary to allow this to be released publicly so that the American people could see for themselves what happened,” he said. Eastman said in an email to Jacob.
After the riot ended, Eastman emailed Jacob again to say the vice president should still send the election back to the states rather than certify it, based on what he called a “relatively minor breach” of procedural law.
Aguilar said the committee also plans to use excerpts from the deposition of former Pence chief of staff Marc Short, who also attended Eastman meetings, as well as depositions from people within the White House. who discussed members of Congress involved in Trump’s efforts. .
“You will also hear from other people who have worked inside the White House who can speak to the evolution of this conspiracy theory idea that Professor Eastman ended up advocating,” Aguilar said.
Eastman, a former Chapman University professor, was the architect of the theory that Pence could either reject votes from state electoral colleges due to allegations of fraud, an act that would have left the next president to decide. state delegations in the House or send the results are sent back to the states for their legislatures to consider the results and decide whether they should be changed.
“What’s important to know is that it only became a real strategy after losing more than 60 lawsuits,” Aguilar said. “It became the last effort.”
Aguilar said the “politically acceptable” plan was to send the results back to the states, but “ultimately what they wanted to do was have the vice president outright reject the voters, stripping the president-elect of the 270 voters that would be needed, thus triggering the states or Congress to vote by state.
The House chooses the president if no presidential candidate receives the required 270 votes from the Electoral College, with each state getting one vote. At the time, Republicans controlled the majority of state delegations, even though Democrats controlled the House.
“President [Trump] woke up on Jan. 6 feeling he still had a path to be president by the end of the day and after Jan. 20,” Aguilar said.
The committee has been in a legal battle with Eastman for months over whether his former employer, Chapman University, can turn over the contents of his university email account to the committee. Eastman claimed attorney-client privilege over some of the documents, prompting a judge to review the disputed emails.
In his initial order requiring Eastman to turn over the emails sent between January 3 and January 7, 2021, Judge David O. Carter found that the emails showed that the plan they were trying to have implemented by Pence was clearly illegal and that Trump and Eastman “more likely than not” conspired to obstruct Congress on January 6.
Carter reviewed hundreds of other emails sent or received by Eastman in the months leading up to Jan. 6 and recently ordered him to turn over 159 additional disputed documents by this week, including some from Trump.
Aguilar said in an interview that the committee is preparing for the possibility that the new trove of emails will come in handy at Thursday’s hearing.
“If they’re relevant to our audience, we’ll include them. We will have time to sort, read and analyze,” he said. “We will adapt”
The panel also plans to hear testimony in person from Federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, who was appointed to the bench by President George HW Bush. Pence built on Luttig’s stance challenging Eastman’s assertions of the vice president’s power when he announced Jan. 6 that he did not believe he had the power to throw out votes or delay the count.
Eastman previously worked for Luttig.
Aguilar said Luttig would be able to talk about the widely accepted interpretation of the role of Congress and the vice president under the Voter Count Act of 1877 and the 12th Amendment, and the shortcomings of the law that Congress may need to correct.
After Thursday’s hearing, the committee is only planning two more, June 21 and 23, each led by a different committee member.
Like most committee members, Aguilar was on the floor of the House on January 6. He believes he was prepared to investigate what happened in a way that others may not have been because of his experience following the 2015 San Bernardino shootings. which occurred in his district less than a year into his first term.
“I think that prepared me in a sense to be able to have these conversations and to be able to kind of step in right now, to try to help and bring to light something that needs to be discussed,” he said. he declares. “These are very different experiences. But January 6 is informed by what my community went through, what I went through with them as a friend and spokesperson, with the December 2 shooting in San Bernardino.
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