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Pence escalates criticism of Trump’s Jan. 6 actions, calling him ‘reckless’

Former vice president Mike Pence shared his perspective on the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot in an interview with ABC’s David Muir, which aired Nov. 14. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Former vice president Mike Pence said Donald Trump’s rhetoric during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was “reckless” and that the former president’s actions “endangered” members of the Pence family and those trapped inside the building that day.

“I mean, the president’s words were reckless,” Pence said in a preview clip of his interview with ABC’s “World News Tonight” published Sunday. “It was clear he decided to be part of the problem.”

Pence was referring to Trump’s tweet, posted while the insurrection was unfolding, on Pence’s refusal to reject the 2020 election results. The tweet said Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” Days earlier, Trump and his allies had publicly urged Pence to overturn the election results for Trump, even though the vice president had no legal right to do so.

Pence told ABC anchor David Muir he was “angered” when Trump published the tweet.

“I turned to my daughter, who was standing nearby, and I said, ‘It doesn’t take courage to break the law. It takes courage to uphold the law,’ ” he said.

The former vice president also said Trump and the White House made no efforts to reach him as the attack unfolded.

“I never heard from the president nor the White House that day," Pence said.

Pence’s comments to ABC appear to be the strongest he has given on Trump and the Capitol riot since tensions between the two men escalated in the last days of the Trump administration. Pence has been mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate.

Five people died in or as a result of the Jan. 6 attack, and about 140 police officers were assaulted when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, breaking through security barriers and forcing lawmakers and aides to barricade themselves inside their offices as they feared for their lives. Police rushed other members of Congress, including the House and Senate leadership, to secure locations.

In surreal scenes that rocked the United States and stunned the world, the crowds descended on the Capitol, many chanting “Stop the steal!” as they echoed Trump’s unfounded allegations of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. Many also chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”

Desperate, angry, destructive: How Americans morphed into a mob

A Washington Post investigation into the attack noted a string of failures that took place before, during and after Jan. 6 and how Trump’s social media statements fueled anger and political unrest in the months leading up to the insurrection.

“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump tweeted in December 2021. “Be there, will be wild!”

The investigation found that Trump received direct warnings of the risks on Jan. 6 but stood by for 187 minutes before calling on his supporters to go home. Law enforcement officials also did not respond with urgency to warnings of violence, and first responders are struggling with deep trauma as a result of the attack, The Post study found.

How the Jan. 6 hearing played out on the pro-Trump web

As the riot unfolded, Twitter suspended Trump and removed three of his tweets, saying they were inciting violence and amplifying baseless conspiracy theories about the election. Facebook followed suit. Both companies later permanently barred Trump from their platforms.

More than 840 suspects have been charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, The Post reported in July, citing court filings, case documents and other public information. The House impeached Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection, but the Senate voted to acquit the president after a days-long trial.

Last month, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack issued a subpoena for testimony and documents from Trump himself, demanding he testify under oath — a move that Trump has attempted to block. Last week, the former president filed a lawsuit against the committee, arguing that the subpoena is invalid because it lacks a “valid legislative purpose.”

The Republican Party failed to take over the Senate and made smaller-than-expected gains in last week’s midterm elections, prompting many Republicans to look beyond Trump as a presidential candidate in the 2024 election. Control of the House of Representatives remains undecided.

Pence, meanwhile, has hinted he might launch his own bid for the White House and take on Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination. Trump is expected to announce his third bid for president on Tuesday.

“There might be somebody else I’d prefer more,” Pence told an audience at Georgetown University when asked last month if he would back Trump for president in the 2024 election. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Pence’s ABC interview is set to be aired in full Monday evening.

Jacqueline Alemany and Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.