(WASHINGTON) — Speaking with special counsel Jack Smith’s team earlier this year, former Vice President Mike Pence offered harrowing details about how, in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, then-President Donald Trump surrounded himself with “crank” attorneys, espoused “un-American” legal theories, and almost pushed the country toward a “constitutional crisis,” according to sources familiar with what Pence told investigators.
The sources said Pence also told investigators he’s “sure” that — in the days before Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob tried to stop Congress from certifying the election — he informed Trump he still hadn’t seen evidence of significant election fraud, but Trump was unmoved, continuing to claim the election was “stolen” and acting “recklessly” on that “tragic day.”
Pence is the highest-ranking current or former government official known to have spoken with the special counsel team investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election. What he allegedly told investigators, described exclusively to ABC News, sheds further light on the evidence Smith’s team has amassed as it prosecutes Trump for allegedly trying to unlawfully “remain in power” and “erode public faith” in democratic institutions.
Pence could take the stand against Trump should Smith’s election interference case go to trial, which is currently slated to occur in March.
As described to ABC News, much of what the former vice president told Smith’s investigators mirrored — and at times restated verbatim — comments he has previously made publicly. Questions from Smith’s team repeatedly focused on a book Pence published last year, with investigators apparently seeking to have Pence confirm — under oath — an array of post-election stories and opinions he included in the book.
But speaking with Smith’s team behind closed doors, Pence also offered previously-undisclosed anecdotes and details showing how his longtime friendship with Trump unraveled in the final weeks of their time in the White House, including Pence’s repeated warnings to Trump about the then-president’s push to overturn the election results.
Sources said that in at least one interview with Pence, Smith’s investigators pressed the former vice president on personal notes he took after meetings with Trump and others, which investigators obtained from the National Archives.
According to sources, one of Pence’s notes obtained by Smith’s team shows that, days before Pence was set to preside over Congress certifying the election results on Jan. 6, 2021, he momentarily decided that he would skip the proceedings altogether, writing in the note that there were “too many questions” and it would otherwise be “too hurtful to my friend.” But he ultimately concluded he had a duty to show up.
Speaking with Smith’s team, Pence insisted his loyalty to President Trump at the time never faltered — “My only higher loyalty was to God and the Constitution,” sources described Pence as telling them.
Sources said that investigators’ questioning became so granular at times that they pressed Pence over the placement of a comma in his book: When recounting a phone call with Trump on Christmas Day 2020, Pence wrote in his book that he told Trump, “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome” of the election on Jan. 6.
But Pence allegedly told Smith’s investigators that the comma should have never been placed there. According to sources, Pence told Smith’s investigators that he actually meant to write in his book that he admonished Trump, “You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” suggesting Trump was well aware of the limitations of Pence’s authority days before Jan. 6 — a line Smith includes in his indictment.
In April, ABC News reported that Pence had just testified before a federal grand jury in Washington. Two months later, in June, Pence launched a bid to challenge Trump as the Republican Party’s next presidential candidate — but Pence’s campaign lasted only four months.