As part of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into former President Donald Trump’s alleged attempts to unlawfully overturn the 2020 presidential election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power, former Vice President Mike Pence made an appearance before a federal grand jury on Thursday.
This latest development holds significant weight for the investigation, as Pence’s testimony could potentially provide crucial insights into Trump’s mindset leading up to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. While Pence has already offered some details about his interactions with Trump in his published memoir and a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the special counsel’s team is particularly interested in shedding light on the former president’s efforts to impede the election certification process.
As Pence’s appearance before the grand jury continued throughout the day, an increased security presence was seen outside the federal courthouse in Washington. Several black SUVs with tinted windows were observed entering the parking garage, with two of them later entering the courthouse garage via an entrance that allowed witnesses to go up to the grand jury rooms on the third floor without being seen in public areas of the courthouse. The vehicles were seen leaving the courthouse around 4:30 p.m.
When reporters inquired about the proceedings, James Boasberg, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Washington, who oversees grand jury proceedings, declined to comment. Similarly, a spokesman for the special counsel also refrained from offering any statement.
It’s worth noting that last month, a federal judge ordered Pence to comply with a subpoena to testify, and Trump’s attempt to block his former vice president’s testimony was unsuccessful. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court also rejected Trump’s appeal.
Meanwhile, Trump himself remained largely tight-lipped about Pence’s appearance, stating to reporters that he had “confidence” in him, but did not know what he said. The former president was in Manchester, New Hampshire, at the time for a campaign event.
Interestingly, Pence’s testimony took place while five members of the Proud Boys, the far-right group that Trump notoriously told to “stand back and stand by” before the 2020 election, awaited a jury’s verdict in a seditious conspiracy trial. During the closing arguments, an attorney for former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio argued that the federal government was trying to make Tarrio a “scapegoat” for Trump, whom he blamed for the attack on the Capitol. The outcome of the trial is yet to be determined.
Pence’s appearance before the grand jury on Thursday came after he had fought hard to avoid testifying, arguing that he was protected by the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause. This clause generally provides protection for lawmakers, preventing them from being forced to testify about legislative activity. Pence’s team had argued that this clause should apply to him because he was acting as the president of the Senate when the events of January 6 unfolded.
However, in a ruling last month, a federal judge rejected this argument, ruling that while the speech or debate clause gave some limited protection to Pence, it did not prevent him from testifying about alleged illegal behaviour by Trump. Smith, the special counsel investigating Trump’s role in the Capitol attack, had subpoenaed Pence in February.
Smith’s investigation began in November after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed him to lead the Justice Department’s probe into Trump’s role in the events of January 6 and his handling of classified documents after he announced his 2024 presidential run.
In a Newsmax interview last month, Pence asserted that he had nothing to hide, stating that he believed he and others had done their duty under the Constitution on January 6. However, he also acknowledged that he was consulting with his attorneys to determine the best path forward. Pence has previously made clear his break with Trump over the January 6 insurrection, saying at the Gridiron Dinner in March, “President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”