(WASHINGTON) — The “contemporaneous notes” that former Vice President Mike Pence says he took related to Jan. 6, 2021, amid a pressure campaign urging him to overturn the 2020 election, are now being raised in special counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump.
Pence, who is running against Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has emerged as a potential key witness at trial after Trump was indicted last week in Washington on four federal charges over his efforts to reverse his presidential election loss and remain in power.
Trump pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Thursday and later claimed to reporters that “this is a persecution of a political opponent” by the federal government, which prosecutors deny.
(Trump faces two other indictments, in New York state and in federal court in Florida, and has pleaded not guilty to both. He denies all wrongdoing.)
The former vice president, who was ordered to testify in April before the federal grand jury investigating Jan. 6, has said in multiple media appearances that he has no plans to testify as a witness at Trump’s future election interference trial but will comply with the law.
It’s a prospect Trump’s attorneys have insisted they welcome, arguing that Pence will not help prosecutors establish “Trump had corrupt or criminal intent.”
“Mike Pence will be one of our best witnesses at trial,” John Lauro said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland has defended the case, saying last week, “Mr. Smith and his team of experienced, principled career agents and prosecutors have followed the facts and the law wherever they lead.”
Here’s what’s known — from Trump’s election interference indictment, recent interviews with Pence and from Pence’s memoir — about the notes the former vice president said he was taking around Jan. 6.
Where are the notes mentioned?
The notes Pence says he took at the time are directly mentioned twice in Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment.
The first reference to Pence’s “contemporaneous notes” is on page 33 of the indictment, in a mention of a meeting on Dec. 29, 2020: Trump falsely told Pence then that the Justice Department was “finding major infractions” in the 2020 election, according to Pence’s notes, the indictment states.
The second direct reference to the notes in the indictment is in reference to a meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, when Pence pushed back on the legality of a proposal to send electoral votes back to states. The indictment states that the meeting included one of Trump’s unnamed alleged co-conspirators, “Co-Conspirator 2,” whom ABC News has identified is likely attorney John Eastman.
The indictment states: “During the meeting, as reflected in the Vice President’s contemporaneous notes, the Defendant knowingly made false claims of election fraud, including, ‘Bottom line – won every state by 100,000 of votes’ and ‘We won every state,’ and asked – regarding a claim his senior Justice Department officials previously had told him was false, including as recently as the night before – ‘What about 205,000 votes more in PA than voters?'”
While the notes are directly mentioned twice, other alleged interactions between Trump and Pence are laid out in the indictment, with details strikingly similar to those in Pence’s memoir, “So Help Me God.”
What’s in Pence’s memoir?
Several conversations between Trump and Pence that are detailed in Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment are also detailed in Pence’s memoir, “So Help Me God,” which was released in November.
For example, in one parallel, the indictment states, “On December 25, when the Vice President called the Defendant to wish him a Merry Christmas, the Defendant quickly turned the conversation to January 6 and his request that the Vice President reject electoral votes that day. The Vice President pushed back, telling the Defendant, as the Vice President already had in previous conversations, ‘You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome.'”
In his book, Pence wrote that he called the president to wish him a Merry Christmas — a tradition over the past four years — and that “not surprisingly, the conversation turned quickly to the election challenges.”
“‘You play a big role,'” Pence wrote that Trump said. “But it was clear from our conversation he had been saying something different.”
Another notable phone call Pence wrote about includes when Trump allegedly called him “too honest” for opposing efforts to have him stop the 2020 election certification on Jan. 6, in his ceremonial role as president of the Senate.
The indictment states: “On January 1 , the Defendant called the Vice President and berated him because he had learned that the Vice President had opposed a lawsuit seeking a judicial decision that, at the certification, the Vice President had the authority to reject or return votes to the states under the Constitution. The Vice President responded that he thought there was no constitutional basis for such authority and that it was improper. In response, the Defendant told the Vice President, ‘You’re too honest.'”
Pence wrote in his book that Trump said, “‘You are being savaged. If it gives you the power why would you oppose it?'”
“I told him, as I told him many times before that I did not believe I possessed the power under the Constitution to decide which votes to accept or reject. He just kept coming,” Pence wrote. “‘You’re too honest,’ he chided, predicting that hundreds of thousands are going to hate your guts and people are going to think you’re stupid.”
Pence also recalled a conversation on Jan. 3, 2021 — also described in the indictment — where he wrote that Trump told him, “You could be a historical figure. But if you wimp out you’re just a somebody.”
The indictment goes on to recount how on Jan. 6, 2021, members of the crowd at the Capitol would chant, “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Traitor Pence!” after Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done…”
Pence has broadly pinned much of the blame for Trump’s push to overturn the election results on some of his lawyers.
He has declined to comment on Trump’s intent and hasn’t recounted a conversation where Trump said he lost the election, though the indictment accuses Trump of knowingly spreading false claims that he won and, at one point in early January 2021, acknowledging he would be succeeded as president by “the next guy.”
Was Pence in the habit of note-taking?
Pence was inspired to take notes at the time because he wanted to make sure any legitimate election challenges were heard, he told ABC News in a gaggle with reporters last week.
“Candidly, I was trying to keep an open mind about the objections that were going to be brought to the floor,” he said. “I was fully prepared to make sure that we heard all the arguments, concerns that members of Congress had brought. But because of the riot [at the Capitol on Jan. 6], and because of the assertion by the president and his crackpot lawyers that I can overturn the election, the violence that ensued eclipsed all of that.”
He elaborated on his note-taking process on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, saying he wasn’t always in the practice of keeping such records but decided to because of the significance.
“I have some limitations of what I can talk about relative to the grand jury, but there was, from time to time, particularly at important moments, I had a practice of scribbling a note or two on my calendar just to memorialize it and remember it and I did that in this case,” Pence said. “I generally didn’t make a practice of taking notes in meetings over a four-year period of time [while in office]. But given the momentous events that were unfolding, I did take a few notes reminding myself of what had been said.”
“Look, I’m a student of American history,” he added. “I knew the founders of this country would never have given any one person the right to choose what electoral college votes to accept and which ones to reject. I was very consistent with the president about that, and my recollections all reflect that.”
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