The hearings, week two

Or “Why I’m not ready to make a hero out of Mike Pence”.

Monday was the second hearing [video, transcript], while the third hearing [video transcript] was Thursday. Two more hearings are scheduled tomorrow and Thursday at 1 p.m.

The daytime hearings have been fleshing out the case presented in the opening prime-time hearing on June 9th, which I covered last week.

Last Monday’s session focused on all the people within the Trump campaign and Trump administration who told Trump he had lost the 2020 election and debunked his claims of fraud. But Trump dismissed the views of Attorney General Bill Barr, his successor Jeff Rosen, campaign chair Bill Stepien, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and others as they refuted very specific claims of fraud — claims Trump would keep repeating.

Instead of accepting what his own experts (who christened themselves Team Normal) told him, Trump sought out less qualified people (Team Crazy) who would tell him what he wanted to hear, like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

The hearing also surfaced a new possible criminal charge: fund-raising fraud. The people who kept contributing to Trump after the election were told their contributions would go into an “Official Election Defense Fund”.

[C]ommittee investigator Amanda Wick … disclosed that Trump aides Hanna Allred and Gary Coby said no fund technically existed. She also noted that most of the money went to Trump’s Save America PAC and that very little was used for challenging the election results.

So not only did Trump’s fund-raising pitches rely on lies about election fraud — giving Trump a financial incentive to keep lying — they also lied about where contributors’ money would go.

The third hearing centered on the plot to miscount electoral votes that was designed by lawyer John Eastman. As before, Trump’s advisors within the administration told him the plan was illegal and unworkable, but he sought out Eastman to be told that he could still hang onto power.

The plot centered on constructing slates of phony electors from the states where Biden’s win was clear but not overwhelming. Based on Trump’s false claims of fraud, the false electors would have their ballots delivered to Congress. On January 6, Eastman’s plan had Vice President Pence either accepting their votes as legitimate, or refusing to accept any votes from those states because their legitimacy was “contested”. Either would erase Biden’s Electoral College margin and re-elect Trump. Failing that, Pence could send this phony controversy back to the state legislature to be resolved. This would both delay Biden’s recognition as President-elect, and would shift pressure to Republican majorities in the legislatures to reverse the will of their states’ voters. (We might expect mini-January-6 riots in state capitols.)

Widely respected conservative Judge Michael Luttig testified that not only did this plan have “no basis in the Constitution or laws of the United States at all”, it constituted “a clear and present danger to American democracy”, one that continues as we move towards the 2024 election.

Fortunately, Mike Pence chose not to cooperate with this plan. Pence’s chief counsel Greg Jacobs testified at length about the pressure Trump and Eastman put on Pence, and described what could have happened as “a constitutional jump ball situation, political chaos in Washington, lawsuits, and who knows what happening in the streets”. When White House lawyer Eric Herschmann expressed a similar fear to Eastman — “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.” — he reported Eastman “said words to the effect of there has been violence in the history of our country, Eric, to protect the democracy or protect the republic.”

Pence came off well in Thursday’s hearing, looking like a modern-day Horatius-at-the-bridge defending American democracy against coup and chaos. And while I appreciate how hard it must have been to toss away the benefits he had earned by four years of complete subservience, I have a hard time seeing him as a hero.

I think Mike Pence should have won the 2021 Darth Vader Award for waiting until the last possible moment to do the right thing. Similar to Darth, if Mike had done the right thing sometime sooner, maybe that last possible moment would never have arisen. In particular, what if Pence had stated publicly, weeks in advance, that he did not have and would not try to exercise the power to discard electoral votes that had been certified by the states? What if he had announced that he had consulted with the attorney general and others within the Trump administration, and had determined that the Trump/Pence ticket had lost the election fair and square?

Maybe Trump’s cultists wouldn’t have arrived in DC on January 6 with the expectation that Biden’s election could still be reversed. Maybe the 1-6 violence would never have happened.

I interpret Pence’s drama as a microcosm of what the GOP spent four years doing: All through the Trump presidency, Republicans in his administration and in Congress had hoped that someone else would stop him before he destroyed American democracy. That’s why Pence kept temporizing, not committing to Eastman’s coup plan, but telling Trump he’d continue to study it. Maybe the whole thing would fall through for some other reason, and Pence would never have to stand up to Trump and Trump’s cult of personality.

Just about every major Republican — not just Pence, but Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and many, many others — could have gone public before things got out of hand, but they decided not to. It was easier just to humor Trump and hope that his whole attempt to stay in office in spite of the voters would just run of steam somehow.

Mike Pence was the one who wound up with no one to pass the buck to. If he had gone along with Trump on January 6, then there would have been no orderly transfer of power, and Trump would either have been overthrown by violence or become de facto autocrat-for-life.

Pence isn’t a hero; he’s just the Republican who lost the game of hot potato.

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  • George Washington, Jr.  On June 20, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for explaining that Pence isn’t a “hero” just because he followed the law.

    Ironically, Pence’s political career is over anyway. His primary base of support – white Evangelicals – are still in the Trump camp. He may have some small appeal to a few never-Trumper Republicans, but Ron DeSantis is much better at threading the needle of appealing to both sides. The fact that Pence was a willing lapdog to Trump on thousands of occasions was erased by his failure to do his boss’ will on one occasion. And it’s not like the Democrats who are hailing Pence as a “hero” would actually vote for him, even if the Democratic ticket in 2024 is Manchin/Sinema.

  • Ed O  On June 20, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    I’m no fan of Mike Pence, but I’m not convinced he could have averted trouble. If Pence had announced weeks earlier that he wouldn’t play along, obviously Trump and his enablers would have immediately come up with some other equally nutty plan to keep Trump in power, and they would have had those weeks to refine and execute that alternate plan. By acting like he might go along and then pulling the rug out only at the last minute on January 6th, Pence set Trump up for his final defeat on January 6th.

    There’s also no way that Pence could have known how bad the violence on January 6th would be (obviously he didn’t know that there was a very real chance that he himself might have been hanged by a mob that day in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate), nor that the violence that might have been involved in that hypothetical alternate plan wouldn’t have been even worse.

    Are you really sure that Pence’s actions weren’t exactly the best thing he could have done, given what he knew at the time, to prevent Trump from remaining in power, at the least predictable cost to both lives and democracy?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On June 20, 2022 at 5:00 pm

      I suppose you could say that Pence did the best he could in the situation he was in, and it could have been worse. However, that doesn’t excuse his shameless, self-serving kowtowing to Trump as a tool to improve his own position. Until his fall from grace, I regularly heard Trumpers saying “Trump 2020, Pence 2024.” As a nominal Evangelical Christian, Pence should have pulled out after the pussy-grabber tape. Instead, he sucked it up. And after all that, he makes one show of less than absolute loyalty, and he might as well be Che Guevara. Pence deserves exactly what he’s getting.

      • Ed O  On June 20, 2022 at 7:02 pm

        I completely agree with all of that.

      • Ed O  On June 20, 2022 at 7:04 pm

        (When I wrote “Are you really sure…” I was addressing Doug, not you.)

    • weeklysift  On June 20, 2022 at 7:12 pm

      I think the role of the vice president on January 6 is possibly the only place in the system where Trump’s effort to overturn the election could all come down to one person. I don’t think “some other equally nutty plan” would have been easy to come up with.

      • Ed O  On June 20, 2022 at 8:23 pm

        Maybe so. One thing that has been suggested is that he might have moved on to invoking the Insurrection Act to “stop the (mythical) steal” and used that authority to call out the military to hold a new election. Once Pence did his part and the election was certified on January 6, that was less plausible.

  • larsblog1  On June 21, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    Yep, Pence was no hero when we needed one


  • By Lingering Dishonor | The Weekly Sift on June 20, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    […] This week’s featured posts are “Will the Great Salt Lake stay great?” and “The hearings, week two“. […]

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