Trump’s latest remarks on Pence and Jan. 6 rioters further test Republican loyalty

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As the Jan. 6 select committee continues its investigation into the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol and the plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump keeps giving them more to consider.

In a flurry of remarks made over the last several days, Trump has made clear that if he runs for reelection and wins a second term, he will not only seek to bury the select committee’s findings, but would seek to overturn criminal convictions for some of his supporters and launch fresh investigations of those who did not go along with his bogus claims of election fraud.

Here’s a recap of Trump’s recent remarks concerning the Jan. 6 riot and the role played by his own former vice president.

Donald Trump
Then-President Donald at the White House in 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Possible pardons for Jan. 6 Rioters

At a rally in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday, Trump said that if he’s elected to serve another term as president in 2024, he would consider issuing pardons to people who’ve been convicted of crimes related to events of Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building as Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. More than 700 people have been charged by the Justice Department in relation to the attack, which left multiple people dead and more than 140 police officers injured.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,” Trump told the crowd. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”

The former president has repeatedly criticized the Justice Department’s prosecution of those who participated in the violent storming of the Capitol, but it was the first time he’d specifically raised the possibility of pardons. A number of those arrested in the immediate aftermath of the riots had expressed hope that they would receive a pardon from the outgoing president, but none were issued before Trump departed the White House later that month.

Trump’s comments at the Texas rally prompted pushback from a number of prominent Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called them “inappropriate” on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“I don’t want to reinforce that defiling the Capitol was OK,” Graham said, adding that he hopes those who participated in the violent riot “go to jail and get the book thrown at them, because they deserve it.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who serves as vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, also took issue with Trump’s speech in Texas.

“Trump uses language he knows caused the Jan 6 violence; suggests he’d pardon the Jan 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy; threatens prosecutors; and admits he was attempting to overturn the election,” she wrote on Twitter. “He’d do it all again if given the chance.”

Pence “could have overturned the Election!”

After his clemency comments had been rebuked by some fellow Republicans on the Sunday news shows, Trump gave everyone something else to talk about.

In a statement late Sunday evening, the former president appeared to issue his most explicit public admission to date that he’d tried to get Vice President Mike Pence to “change the outcome” of the 2020 election.

“If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had ‘absolutely no right’ to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?” Trump asked in his statement, referring to a bipartisan push to reform the Electoral College Act, the 1887 statute governing how Electoral College votes are counted. “Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

On Jan. 6, Pence oversaw the certification of the Electoral College vote and reportedly refused direct appeals made by Trump and members of his inner circle urging him to simply refuse to declare Biden the winner in six battleground states.

Trump’s statement was apparently triggered by remarks made by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on ABC's “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” Collins, who is leading the effort in the Senate to update the Electoral College Act, told Stephanopoulos that “ambiguities” in the antiquated law had been “exploited” on Jan. 6, 2021, referring to the effort by Trump and his allies Capitol Hill to reject slates of electors from states won by Biden, based on unproven claims of widespread voter fraud.

“We need to prevent that from happening again,” said Collins.

Before the violent mob stormed the Capitol, temporarily delaying Congress from certifying Biden’s win, Trump had privately and publicly pressured Pence, who would be presiding over the process as president of the Senate, to throw out certain states’ electoral votes.

Though constitutional law experts widely agree that the vice president has no legal authority under the existing language of the Electoral College Act to determine which votes should be counted, among the proposed changes senators have discussed making to the law include a clarification that the vice president’s role is purely ceremonial.

This seems to have been misinterpreted by Trump, who pointed to the current effort to update the Electoral College Act as proof that Pence did have the authority to overturn the election all along which, he makes clear in his statement, is what he wanted to happen.

“This is an admission, and a massively un-American statement,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who is one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating Jan. 6. “It is time for every Republican leader to pick a side. Trump or the Constitution, there is no middle on defending our nation anymore.”

Jan. 6 committee should investigate Pence

On Tuesday, Trump seemed emboldened by his inaccurate belief that Pence could have simply overturned the Electoral College results, and issued a new statement pushing his case even further.

In the new statement, the former president suggested that the Jan. 6 committee should investigate “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval, in that it has now been shown that he clearly had the right to do so!”

Trump once again repeated the false claim that Pence “could have sent the votes back to various legislators for reassessment after so much fraud and irregularities were found,” arguing that “If it were sent back to the legislators,” the violent mob — which on Jan. 6 erected gallows and chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” — might never have stormed the Capitol.

It’s not likely that the Jan. 6 committee — which Trump derided in Tuesday’s statement as “political hacks, liars, and traitors” — will pursue this line of inquiry. However, the former president’s latest outbursts notably come amid reports that the House panel is making substantial inroads with Pence’s staff as it continues to pursue information about Trump’s activities leading up to and on Jan. 6. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, testified before the committee last week, and Pence’s former chief counsel, Greg Jacob, met with the committee Tuesday.