Mike Pence testified before a federal grand jury on Thursday in Washington about Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, according to a source familiar with the matter, a day after an appeals court rejected a last-ditch motion to block his appearance.
The former vice-president’s testimony lasted for around seven hours and took place behind closed doors, meaning the details of what he told the prosecutors hearing evidence in the case remains uncertain.
His appearance is a moment of constitutional consequence and potential legal peril for the former president. Pence is considered a major witness in the criminal investigation led by special counsel Jack Smith, since Trump pressured him to unlawfully reject electoral college votes for Joe Biden at the joint session of Congress, and was at the White House meeting with Republican lawmakers who discussed objections to Biden’s win.
The two interactions are of particular investigative interest to Smith as his office examines whether Trump sought to unlawfully obstruct the certification and defrauded the United States in seeking to overturn the 2020 election results.
Pence had privately suggested to advisers that he would provide as complete an account as possible of what took place inside and outside the White House in the weeks leading up to the 6 January Capitol attack, as well as how Trump had been told his plans could violate the law.
His appearance came the morning after the US court of appeals for the DC circuit rejected an emergency legal challenge seeking to block Pence’s testimony on executive privilege grounds, and Trump ran out of road to take the matter to the full DC circuit or the supreme court.
The government has been trying to get Pence’s testimony for months, starting with requests from the justice department last year and then through a grand jury subpoena issued by Smith, who inherited the complicated criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to stay in power.
The subpoena came under immediate challenges from Trump’s lawyers, who invoked executive privilege to limit the scope of Pence’s testimony, as well as from Pence’s lawyer, who argued his role as president of the Senate on 6 January meant he was protected from legal scrutiny by the executive branch.
Both requests to limit the scope of Pence’s testimony were largely denied by the new chief US judge for the court James Boasberg, who issued a clear-cut denial to Trump and a more nuanced ruling to Pence that upheld that he was protected in part by speech or debate protections.
Still, Boasberg ruled that speech or debate protections did not shield him from testifying about any instances of potential criminality.
The former vice-president’s team declined to challenge the ruling. But Trump’s legal team disagreed, and filed the emergency motion that was denied late on Wednesday by judges Gregory Katsas, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins.
Starting weeks after the 2020 election, Trump tried to cajole Pence into helping him reverse his defeat by using his largely ceremonial role of the presiding officer of the Senate on 6 January to reject the legitimate Biden slates of electors and prevent his certification.
The effort relied in large part on Pence accepting fake slates of electors for Trump – now a major part of the criminal investigation – to create a pretext for suggesting the results of the election were somehow in doubt and stop Biden from being pronounced president.
The pressure campaign involved Trump, but it also came from a number of other officials inside and outside the government, including Trump’s lawyer John Eastman, other Trump campaign-affiliated lawyers such as Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, and dozens of Republican members of Congress.
Pence was also unique in having one-on-one discussions with Trump the day before the Capitol attack and on the day of, which House January 6 select committee investigators last year came to believe was a conspiracy that the former president had at least some advance knowledge.
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