The key details concern Trump’s relentless pressure on Pence to help subvert the electoral college count on Jan. 6, pursuant to the vice president’s role as president of the Senate. The day before, in the Oval Office, Trump angrily told Pence that various people believed he did have the power to somehow derail the count.
“If these people say you had the power, wouldn't you want to?” Trump asked."I wouldn't want any one person to have that authority," Pence said."But wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power?" Trump asked, according to Woodward and Costa.“No,” Pence said. He went on, “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”
I’ve done everything I could and then some. That’s at odds with the portrayal of Pence as a heroic defender of the Constitution and the rule of law who bravely rebuffed Trump’s corrupt pressure on him to help destroy them both.
Obviously Pence might have been exaggerating his efforts to placate Trump. But notably, the book also reports that Pence privately said the same to former vice president Dan Quayle, who basically had to persuade him he had no power to help Trump:
Over and over, Pence asked if there was anything he could do.“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him.
So we need to know how far Pence actually did try to go. Which raises a bunch of other questions. For instance, did Trump try to pressure the Justice Department to develop a fake legal rationale for Pence to somehow derail the electoral count?
Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 commission, has suggested another line of inquiry: What was Pence’s own understanding of the plot Trump was trying to set in motion?
We know Pence told his security detail that he adamantly would not allow himself to be removed from the Capitol as the violence raged. So what exactly did Pence understand about the intentions of Trump and his co-conspirators?
Trump sent the mob to terrorize Pence. Did Pence believe Trump and his allies wanted him removed in hopes that this would somehow halt the count and then kick it back to the states or into the House for a contingent election decided by state delegations? The new revelations make these lines of questioning more relevant.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Jan. 6 select committee, says the new details suggest its investigation will have to fully flesh out Pence’s role.
“We need to look and see how far things went in 2020 in order to determine what correctives we need to make for 2024,” Raskin told me.
The point about 2024 is key: This isn’t merely about reconstructing past events, but also about safeguarding our system against a future stolen election.
“Trump wanted to exploit every vulnerability and booby trap in the electoral college,” Raskin said.
As Raskin pointed out, in 2024 Republicans might try to steal an election again, only this time, they might control one or both chambers of Congress. In various scenarios, the holes in the Electoral Count Act — which governs how electoral college votes are counted in Congress, and how disputes over them are resolved — might be exploited so a GOP House and/or Senate could subvert the count.
At the same time, Raskin pointed out, Trump’s loyalists are working to purge state-level Republicans who refused to assist his effort to steal the election in 2020, so there’s no telling whether we can count on officials holding the line next time.
Learning how far Pence was willing to go, Raskin says, might help us understand just how vulnerable the system is to a more successful effort, and what might be done about it.
“The electoral college system is a creaky antique, but it worked so long as everyone basically agreed to honor the popular vote in the states as controlling the award of electoral college votes,” Raskin told me. “The moment that understanding is breached, at that point all bets are off.”
“So the question is whether we can put the genie of coup and insurrection back in the bottle,” Raskin continued, “or whether we need fundamental and sweeping reform of the electoral college system in order to guarantee that we have a dependable democratic election.”
These are things the committee will have to grapple with. And the new Pence revelations underscore how complicated and ugly that task will truly be.