The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump says congressional investigators should examine why Pence didn’t reject electoral college results

Former president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Conroe, Tex., on Jan. 29. (Michael Stravato for The Washington Post)
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Former president Donald Trump on Tuesday advocated a new focus for congressional investigators: why then-Vice President Mike Pence did not take steps on Jan. 6, 2021, to reject electoral college votes from several states won by Joe Biden.

Trump’s exhortation came two days after he created an uproar with a statement suggesting Pence should have “overturned” the election as he presided over the counting of electoral college votes by Congress.

In a fresh statement Tuesday, Trump offered a more nuanced take on what he would have liked to have seen from Pence, saying he “could have sent the votes back to various legislators for reassessment after so much fraud and irregularities were found.”

Trump suggests Pence should have ‘overturned’ the election on Jan. 6

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election results in any of the battleground states won by Biden.

In his role as president of the Senate, Pence was at the Capitol to preside over the counting of the electoral votes on the day when a pro-Trump mob breached the building in an effort to prevent him from officially affirming Biden’s win.

Pence repeatedly told Trump in the lead-up to Jan. 6 that he did not have the power to overturn the 2020 election, and Trump would regularly ask him to listen to other advisers or read other arguments that said he did.

On Jan. 6, President Biden said that “we are in a battle for the soul of America” in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the violent Capitol mob. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Members of both parties are looking at changes to the Electoral Count Act, a law that governs what Congress should do in the case of any disputes about which candidate won in a state. Among the changes under consideration is making it more explicit that the role of the vice president is merely ceremonial.

Trump in recent days has seized on the latter issue, claiming it bolsters his case that Pence did have power to reject votes from some states. Democratic lawmakers have rejected that interpretation, saying they are trying to remove any ambiguity from the law.

In his statement Tuesday, Trump took renewed aim at the House select committee examining the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying it was filled with “political hacks, liars, and traitors.”

Trump said a better focus for the committee would be “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval, in that it has now been shown that he clearly had the right to do so!”

Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, is among those who have testified before the select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

Short appeared before the committee last week, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Pence does not plan to appear before the committee, but besides Short, Pence’s top lawyer, Greg Jacob, met with the committee on Tuesday.

Members of the mob that day shouted “Hang Mike Pence!” and erected a gallows on the west side of the Capitol. As the building was under siege, Pence and his family were whisked into a hideaway, narrowly escaping the attackers, before being taken to a more secure location elsewhere in the complex.

During a rally this past weekend in Texas, Trump suggested that he would pardon the rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection if he were elected president in 2024.

Asked about Trump’s comments, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that the storming of the Capitol “was an effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another, which had never happened before in our country.”

In the aftermath, McConnell said, 165 people have pled guilty to criminal behavior, and “my view is I would not be in favor of shortening any of the sentences for any of the people who pleaded guilty to crimes.”

Former vice president Mike Pence on June 3 said he doesn't know whether he'll “see eye-to-eye” with former president Donald Trump about the Jan. 6 insurrection. (Video: The Washington Post)

Pence is expected to address and defend his decision to certify the election during a speech Friday in Florida to the Federalist Society.

Trump and Pence are both expected to appear at a Republican donor retreat in New Orleans in early March. Pence allies have said he will consider a presidential bid, even if Trump runs for the White House again.