Thursday’s 1/6 hearing was The Mike Pence Show: A detailed examination of the pressures brought to bear on the former vice president by Donald Trump and others, along with revelations that most everyone applying that pressure knew full well what they were doing was illegal. Bearing the day’s testimony in mind, I’d like you to watch for something over the coming weeks and months.
One of the big takeaways from the hearing is the fact that Pence is lucky to be walking around with his head still attached to his body. The name “Pence” did not appear anywhere in Trump’s prepared remarks for that day, but after a heated morning phone call that had Trump calling Pence all sorts of derogatory names, Trump voluntarily fed Pence’s name to the crowd multiple times in order to gin them up against him. At one point during the sacking of the Capitol, the insurrectionists were 40 feet away from Pence.
On Thursday, Democrats on the committee and various voices in the media were hailing Pence as a hero for standing the gaff on 1/6 and doing his constitutional duty. “Steely … grim” were some words used to describe Pence’s demeanor on the morning of 1/6. Well and good, he needed goading from Dan Quayle among others to do that duty, but he did it.
Knowing all this, knowing how hard Trump essentially tried to have his own vice president killed, knowing that Pence knows, what I want you to watch is all the ways Pence is going to pretzel himself to curry favor from the same voters who were set to feed him to a gibbet on the Capitol lawn 17 months ago. He wants to be president, too, see. There is no bottom to this particular barrel.
As for significant revelations, Thursday’s top surprise was the fact that John Eastman, the conservative Trump lawyer who drafted one of the how-to insurrection memos motivating Trump, sought a pardon by way of Rudy Giuliani for his role in the debacle. “Eastman repeatedly acknowledged that his proposal for former Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject electors lacked a legal basis,” reports Axios. It seems asking for a pardon in the aftermath was a smart play.
The most important part of the hearing was not actually heard at the hearing, except in occasional snippets. The main witness, former Judge J. Michael Luttig, a seemingly eternal conservative stalwart jurist and former mentor to Ted Cruz, offered a prepared statement to the committee. The document in full is a towering condemnation of Trump and his various minions. It minces no words:
A stake was driven through the heart of American democracy on January 6, 2021, and our democracy today is on a knife’s edge. America was at war on that fateful day, but not against a foreign power. She was at war against herself. We Americans were at war with each other — over our democracy…
On January 6, 2021, revolutionaries, not patriots, assaulted America and American democracy. The walls of all three of our institutions of democracy were scaled and breached on that appalling day. And almost two years thence, one of America’s two political parties cannot even agree whether that day was good or bad, right or wrong. Worse, it cannot agree over whether January 6 was needed, or not. Needed or not. Pause for a moment and reflect on that. The former president and his party cannot decide whether the revolt at the United States Capitol to disrupt and prevent the constitutional counting of the votes for the presidency was needed, and therefore whether another revolt might be needed at a future date to accomplish that which the previous revolt failed to accomplish.
Strong and appropriate as those words are, the day’s doings were marked more significantly by a parade of former Trump aides who tried to swaddle themselves in righteousness. Pence attorney Greg Jacobs led the way, time and again laboring to make clear that he and all the others knew the whole scenario was sideways… and yet, he and all the others chose to remain silent until now.
Speaking for myself, there is no coming back from that. Every lawyer who was in the room for any portion of this plot yet said nothing should be disbarred, and all the self-serving Biblical gobbledygook they painted the hearing room walls with yesterday should not save them from such a deserved fate.
Jacobs. Eastman. Stepien. Herschmann. Miller. Barr. It goes on, and puts one in mind of words written in a memo by former President Richard Nixon to H.R. Haldeman in December of 1970… and yes, God help me, I’m quoting “Tricky Dick” to make sense of Donald Trump. “The greatest mistake most Presidents make,” wrote Nixon, “is to allow themselves, because of sentiment, to be surrounded in top positions by first-rate, second-rate men.”
I’m not going to say it was due to sentiment, because among other reasons I am not at all sure Donald Trump is capable of achieving so human an emotion, but boy howdy, did he ever surround himself with first-rate, second-rate men. These hearings have gone a long way toward establishing Trump’s legal culpability for the sacking of the Capitol, but they have also established that Trump should not be allowed to staff an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.
But we knew that, too. Meanwhile, watch Pence going forward. He will feed himself to the GOP base if he can… because at the end of the day, he was the original first-rate, second-rate man selected by Trump to join him in polluting the White House.
Never forget: This is the same fellow who told Sean Hannity in October 2021, “I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January. They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.”
Nothing whatsoever about him has changed. The fact that Pence did his duty, more or less, on “that one day” puts me in mind of the scold I must occasionally drop on my daughter: You don’t get extra points for doing what you’re supposed to do.