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Jan. 6 committee leaders say Trump broke the law by trying to pressure Pence

Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks Thursday at the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol,
J. Scott Applewhite
Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks Thursday at the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol,

Committee leaders Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney said the hearing Thursday revealed the details of a pressure campaign led by former President Donald Trump against his vice president — one that Thompson labeled "an unlawful and unconstitutional scheme to overturn the 2020 election and give Donald Trump a second term in office that he did not win."

Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, added: "What the president wanted the vice president to do was not just wrong; it was illegal and unconstitutional."

Thompson began his remarks by referencing a video clip of the former vice president in February, describing how he did not have the power to overturn the results of the presidential election.

"There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president," Pence said at the time.

"I agree with that, which is unusual because former Vice President Mike Pence and I don't agree on much," said Thompson, who served alongside Pence in the House of Representatives from 2001-2013.

Thompson briefly described the role of a vice president in overseeing the counting of electoral votes, noting that Trump "wanted Mike Pence to do something no other vice president has ever done" — reject the votes and either declare Trump the winner, or send the matter back to the states.

Both Thompson and Cheney praised Pence for resisting Trump's demands.

"We are fortunate for Mr. Pence for his courage," Thompson said, adding that once Pence made it clear he wouldn't bend to Trump's will, the former president "turned the mob on him."

"A mob that was chanting, 'Hang Mike Pence!' A mob that had built a hangman's gallows just outside the Capitol," Thompson recalled.

Cheney played a clip of testimony from Marc Short, Pence's then-chief of staff, in which Short said Pence had conveyed his position that he couldn't do what Trump was asking of him "many times" to his boss.

Cheney added that Trump plotted with attorney John Eastman to pressure Pence. She quoted a federal judge, who wrote, "based on the evidence, the court finds that it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the joint session of Congress on Jan. 20, 2021."

Cheney also played a clip of Pence's former chief counsel Greg Jacob saying that he believed Eastman acknowledged on Jan. 4, 2021 — two days before the insurrection — that his proposal violated the Electoral Count Act.

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
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