Donald Trump accused of pressure campaign on Mike Pence that put him in 'tremendous danger'

The committee accused Donald Trump of inciting a mob and putting Mike Pence in 'danger'. Credit: AP

The third day of a hearing investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol was told of a pressure campaign by Donald Trump to get Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 presidential election result.

The House committee on Thursday attempted to show that then-president Trump launched a "scheme" to force then-Vice President Pence to delay or reject the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory that morning - despite knowing it was illegal.

When Pence did not give in to the continued pressure, Trump incited an angry mob to break into the Capitol that day, the panel argued.

Lawmakers and witnesses who testified at the hearing said Pence's decision averted a "constitutional crisis" but "put him in tremendous danger," with stark new evidence detailing how the mob came within 40 feet of where he was sheltering.

In what has been called the most significant Congressional hearing in US political history, the committee last Friday accused the former president of staging an "attempted coup" by summoning a "violent mob".

The riot left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters charged into the Capitol.

At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.

Trump's "illegal" last-ditch efforts to overturn election result

The House panel intended to show that Trump’s false claims of a fraudulent election left him grasping for alternatives as courts turned back dozens of lawsuits challenging the vote.

Trump was accused of latching onto an obscure plan to keep him in power devised by conservative law professor John Eastman on January 4 - just two days before the vice president was to preside over the January 6 joint session of Congress to certify Biden's election victory.

In video testimony, Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, said the vice president told Trump “many times” that he did not agree with the idea.

A video John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani is displayed on a screen as the House select committee investigates. Credit: AP

Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat on the committee who led Thursday's hearing, said Pence also "consistently" told Trump that he did not have "and would not want" the power to do so.

Witnesses revealed in testimony that Trump's closest advisers grew increasingly concerned and viewed his and Eastman's last-ditch efforts as “nuts,” likely to incite riots and illegal.

But Trump did not listen to their advice and kept up the public and private pressure campaign anyway, argued the panel.

Aguilar called Eastman’s scheme, which was amplified by lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others, “a legally and morally bankrupt idea.”

Retired federal judge Michael Luttig said if Pence had declared Trump president, it would have “plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis.”

Trump's actions 'put Pence in danger'

The panel heard "things reached a boiling point" on the morning of January 6, after the then-president tweeted at Pence the night before pressuring him publicly.

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore rounds up the most damning testimony from the first day of Capitol riot hearing last Friday

That morning Pence issued a public statement making it clear that he would certify the legitimate results of the election.

Close aides said the vice president, a deeply religious man, started a meeting at his house that morning in prayer "knowing that day was going to be a challenging one," said his former chief of staff, Short.

Appearing in front of the White House, Trump later told thousands of his supporters that he hoped Pence would reconsider. The committee showed video from that rally in which Trump said that if Pence doesn’t come through, “I won’t like him as much.”

The then-president's continued pressure, the committee asserts, put Pence in immediate danger after rioters marched down to the Capitol and chanted for his death.

Former Vice President Mike Pence talking on the phone from his secure location during the riot. Credit: AP

In one video played by the committee, a Trump supporter said he had heard reports that Pence had “caved,” and if he did they were going to drag “politicians through the streets.”

As Pence evacuated the Senate and hid in the Capitol, rioters in front of the building chanted “bring him out!”

A fake guillotine was constructed on the National Mall, and people breaking into the building chanted: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”

Trump continued to pressure Pence even as his supporters stormed the building, tweeting that Pence “lacked courage."

“Donald Trump turned the mob on him," said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the panel.

A close call in the Capitol

As the rioters broke in, Pence hastily evacuated his post presiding over the Senate. At one point, the mob was just 40 feet from where Pence and his team were sheltering, California Rep. Pete Aguilar said.

Greg Jacob, a counsel to Pence who was with him at the time, said they had “heard the din” of the violent mob as they evacuated - but didn't know they were that close.

Watch Robert Moore's report from Washington DC on January 6 in full

The committee also showed never-before-seen photos of Pence after he had evacuated to a secure location in the Capitol, including one photo in which he was reading one of Trump's tweets.

Jacob said Secret Service agents wanted them to leave the building but Pence refused to get in the car because he "didn’t want to take any chance” that the world would see him leaving the Capitol.

Trump 'called Pence a wimp' in an 11th hour heated call

The committee shed some new light on a phone call between Trump and Pence the morning of January 6.

In videotaped testimony, Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, said the conversation was “pretty heated” and that her father had "a different tone than I had heard him take with the vice president before.”

In other taped interviews, aides described snippets of the conversation. Trump's personal aide, Nicholas Luna, said he heard the word “wimp.”

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Ivanka Trump's chief of staff, Julie Radford, said she was told the president called Pence “the p-word.”

In the following hours, Trump went to the rally stage and criticised the vice president to his thousands of supporters.

Aguilar said the committee found that Trump had revised the speech to include criticism of Pence.