The fundamental question before the January 6 committee is whether they will ever, really, get to the bottom of what former President Donald Trump said and did that day – and in the days leading up the riot at the US Capitol.
To date, we know that some of the critical players in the planning of the January 6 riot have sought to avoid congressional subpoenas from the committee, with one-time Trump political svengali Steve Bannon as the test case for whether the Justice Department will hold those resisting subpoenas in criminal contempt.
But, a development on Wednesday suggests that the committee may be able to get much of what they need on Trump’s plans and actions on January 6 through another source: Advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence.
As CNN reported exclusively on Wednesday: “The House select committee investigating January 6 is interested in gathering information from at least five members of former Vice President Mike Pence’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the effort.”
Which is interesting. But not as interesting as this – as few paragraphs later – in the CNN report:
“Multiple sources tell CNN that some individuals close to Pence may be willing, either voluntarily or under the guise of a “friendly subpoena,” to provide critical information on how Trump and his allies tried to pressure the former vice president to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“According to sources familiar with the discussions, some Pence aides are proving more willing to engage with the committee than previously made public.”
That is a “whoa” moment. And should make the former president very, very nervous.
Among the people that the committee would like to talk to are Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff as well as Nick Ayers, a previous Pence chief of staff. The committee had previously subpoenaed Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser who spent much of January 6 with Trump. And Alyssa Farah, a former Trump White House secretary, has already spoken to Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two Republicans on the January 6 committee.
Thanks to “Peril,” the book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa that documents the final year or Trump’s presidency – with special emphasis on what happened on January 6 (and the days leading up to it), we know that a number of Pence’s top aides were very upset with the way the president treated the vice president.
* When Short, who was with Pence, called then Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to provide a sort of status report during January 6, Woodward and Costa write that Short was “deeply frustrated” that Meadows had very little urgency about the unfolding situation,
* In a January 13th meeting of Pence’s top aides, Ayers was “angry and unhappy” with Pence’s reaction to a meeting with Trump in which the president didn’t apologize for his behavior toward his second-in-command on January 6. Ayers, write the authors, thought that Pence’s response was: “too soft and too ready to move on.”
* At another point in that same meeting, Ayers spoke bluntly to Pence about Trumpworld: “Sir, these are transactional people. They made it very clear what they think of you. How many calls did they make when you were at the Capitol?”
* In mid-November, Kellogg pulled Pence aside during a trip by the vice president to see the Space X rocket launch in Florida. “Sir, you’ve got to end this here,” Kellogg told Pence of Trump’s push for the Vice President to overturn the electoral college vote on January 6. “Walk in there and say ‘I ain’t going to do it.’ Not just that you can’t do it, you won’t do it.”
* On January 6, Kellogg, who was at Trump’s side, urged the president to put out a tweet to stem the rising mob. “Nobody’s carrying a TV on their shoulder,” Kellogg told Trump. “You need to get a tweet out real quick, help control the crowd up there. This is out of control. They’re not prepared for it. Once a mob starts turning like that, you’ve lost it.” Trump didn’t take Kellogg’s advice.
There’s more – LOTS more – in “Peril” but the general gist is clear: If Pence’s team talks to the January 6 committee, they have the ability to provide a clear and definitive view of what Trump (and Pence) did that day (and in the days leading up to that day.)
And, if early indications are any guide, at least some of Pence’s allies remain angry about the way the vice president was treated by Trump – and may decide that the time has come to get the full story out.
Which would be a very tough moment for Trump.