President Trump claimed multiple times in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to decide the 2020 election outcome himself, despite being told on multiple occasions that such a plan was illegal.
Trump's motivation for making these claims was a theory pushed by John Eastman, an attorney who worked for Trump in the period after the 2020 election and during the lead-up to Jan. 6.
Eastman drafted a series of memos laying out a fringe legal theory claiming that Pence could unilaterally reject the certified slates of electors from key states and essentially decide he and Trump won the election.
Testimony at the House January 6 committee's third public hearing on Thursday showed Eastman understood the illegality of his proposal, leading him to request a presidential pardon after Jan. 6 and invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 100 times in an interview with the committee.
Greg Jacob, who was counsel to former Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge, arrive before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
"There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss. 2nd District), the committee chairman, said in his opening remarks.
"We are fortunate for Mr. Pence's courage on Jan. 6," he said.
Greg Jacob, former counsel to Pence, testified that the pressure from the Trump team was consistent and unrelenting, but that the vice president "never budged" and did not think he could overturn the election.
"[T]he vice president's first instinct when he heard this theory," Jacob told the committee, "was that there was no way that our framers, who abhorred concentrated power, who had broken away from the tyranny of George III, would ever have put one person, particularly not a person who had a direct interest in the outcome because they were on the ticket for the election, in a role to have decisive impact on the outcome of the election.
J. Michael Luttig, the second live witness at Thursday's hearing, served as an informal legal adviser to Pence. He offered a similar critique of Eastman's theory, saying it had no historical precedent and no basis in the Constitution.
"This is constitutional mischief," Luttig said.
FILE - Vice President Mike Pence stands to officiate with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as a joint session of the House and Senate convenes to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Despite the Pence team's dismissal of the theory, committee evidence and testimony showed Trump and Eastman persisted with their effort to persuade Pence to go along with their plan.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Trump called Pence from the Oval Office, where much of the Trump family had gathered, including the president's children Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, as well as Donald Jr.'s fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Testimony from Trump family and aides revealed Trump was unusually heated on the call and used the words "wimp" and "p***y," directed at Pence.
Jacob testified the vice president seemed "steely" and "determined" after the call.
Trump's pressure was more public later that day. In a speech at a rally on the Ellipse near the White House in front of hundreds of supporters, Trump told the crowd he hoped Pence would do what he wanted.
"And Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country," Trump said. "And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you."
Pence had no such plan. Once the counting of the votes started, he played the ceremonial role in the proceeding that vice presidents have played since the founding of the country.
Once rioters breached the Capitol, Pence was moved to a secure location in his office across from the Senate chamber. He was later moved again, coming within 40 feet of the rioters inside before ending up in the garage of the Capitol Visitor Center.
Once there, Jacob testified Pence refused to leave the Capitol complex in his Secret Service vehicles, telling the head of his detail, "Tim, I know you, I trust you, but you're not the one behind the wheel," indicating he did not fully trust the detail to keep him safe.
Jacob said Pence "continued the work of government" from the garage, staying in touch with congressional leaders and the acting defense secretary throughout the attack before returning to the House chamber later that night to finish the certification.
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif. 31st District), who led the committee's presentation, closed the hearing with praise for Pence and condemnation of Trump, both in the lead-up to and during the Capitol attack.
"Donald Trump knew he lost the 2020 election," he said. "But he could not bring himself to part in the peaceful transfer of power. So he latched onto a scheme that, once again, he knew was illegal. And when the vice president refused to go along with it, he unleashed a violent mob against him."
Updated on June 16, 2022, at 5:07 p.m. ET with an original write-through.