A few months ago, former Vice President Mike Pence appeared in New Hampshire and said he’d consider testifying before the Jan. 6 committee. Last week, the Republican reversed course, said he was “closing the door” on cooperating with the congressional investigation, and concluded that the bipartisan panel “has no right” to his testimony.
It was, by any fair measure, a deeply flawed response.
There is, however, a qualitative difference between blowing off a US House panel that will soon wrap up its work and snubbing federal prosecutors weighing possible indictments. The New York Times reported this afternoon:
The Justice Department is seeking to question former Vice President Mike Pence as a witness in connection with its criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election, according to two people familiar with the matter.
According to the Times’ reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, the Republican is “open to considering” the investigators’ request.
In case this isn’t obvious, there’s nothing to suggest that the Justice Department wants to question Pence as a possible target of the investigation. The opposite is true: The former vice president is one of the most important witnesses about one of the most important instances of political violence in modern American history.
As the Times added, “Mr. Pence was present for some of the critical moments in which Mr. Trump and his allies schemed to keep him in office and block the congressional certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.”
To be sure, Donald Trump would absolutely try to invoke executive privilege, in large part because the former president has reason to be terrified of what Pence might tell prosecutors. That said, Trump’s earlier executive privilege claims haven’t gone particularly well.
What’s more, let’s also not forget that a Justice Department grand jury has already heard from top members of Pence’s team, and it stands to reason that investigators would also sit down with the former vice president himself.
It’s likely that the next steps will take a while — at least for now, Pence has not been subpoenaed — and working through the privilege claims could take months.
But it’s clearly a worthwhile pursuit and emblematic of an intensifying investigation. On Jan. 6, Pence’s life was in danger because of Trump’s reckless lies and desire for illegitimate power. Ahead of Jan. 6, Pence was the target of an outrageous lobbying campaign from the then-president and his team of cracks and charlatans, each of whom envisioned the then-vice president playing a key role in what was effectively an attempted coup.
Pence has been willing to share his thoughts on the matter in public appearances, in media interviews, in published op-eds, and even in his book. Offering his perspective to federal law enforcement seems like the next obvious step.