The House committee probing the US Capitol insurrection racked up one of its most significant wins yet, just as fresh evidence shed new light on ex-President Donald Trump’s coup plotting.
CNN reported exclusively on Monday that ex-Vice President Mike Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short had given lengthy testimony under subpoena last week. His appearance before the committee was the latest sign that the panel has carved out a window through Pence’s staff into events in the West Wing on and before January 6, 2021, that Trump’s aides have tried to hide.
CNN on Monday also reported new details of the depth of the conspiracy to steal President Joe Biden’s election win. Multiple sources said that Trump aides drafted two versions of an executive order to seize voting machines intended for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. While the orders were never issued, they flesh out the depravity of the plotting in the final days of Trump’s White House that had more in common with a developing world tyrant’s desperate bid to cling to power than the conduct expected of a US President.
In another development, the National Archives on Monday also released an extraordinary statement saying that West Wing documents sent to the agency had been torn up by the former President and had to be taped up before they were handed to the January 6 committee – casual destruction of what has now become evidence in a congressional inquiry that also serves as a fresh reminder of Trump’s contempt for history and record keeping.
Meanwhile, there are increasing signs he’s preparing to remain a major player on the political stage, and likely launch another bid for the White House, with his political organization announcing Monday it had amassed $122 million in cash reserves – an unprecedented sum for a former president.
The news of Short’s testimony, first reported by CNN’s Jamie Gangel and Gloria Borger, represents one of the most significant signs of momentum for the committee so far. It drives Pence and congressional investigators inexorably toward a fateful dilemma – over whether the ex-vice president who blocked Trump’s coup as the last resort in Congress will testify about his experience.
Short is the latest key figure in Pence’s orbit to talk in a channel that has produced first-hand, behind-the-scenes access to the Oval Office before and during the mob attack on the Capitol incited by Trump. Short may be the most significant witness yet who is publicly known to have talked to the committee. And by submitting to a subpoena, he widened the schism between Pence’s team and several Trump acolytes who have defied the panel at the risk of criminal prosecution. That split may finally blow the inside story of January 6 wide open.
Testimony by an ultra-loyal aide to Pence will inevitably fan fresh speculation on whether the former vice president will be called to testify. Even for a panel that is probing one of the most notorious days in American history, such a step would be a significant escalation. Pence is potentially the most eye-catching possible witness other than Trump himself. His testimony would carry greater weight with the public than that of lower-ranked officials. But it would also likely destroy the political balance he’s trying to strike between explaining his actions on January 6, 2021, and preserving his own political future with a Trump-loving base.
A vital witness
Recent leaps forward by the committee, including testimony from key players and a Supreme Court victory over Trump that unlocked a stash of White House documents, have increased the likelihood of a comprehensive report on January 6 that could shock the public, and potentially damage the ex-President’s comeback hopes.
Short is seen as a potentially vital witness since he was with his boss at the Capitol on January 6 when the mob was chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” He was also at the then-vice president’s side during a meeting on January 4 between Trump and conservative lawyer John Eastman, who tried to convince Pence that he had the power to overturn the election results in Congress. Pence concluded after consulting advisers and outsiders – including GOP former Vice President Dan Quayle – that he had no such authority to act on Trump’s lies about voter fraud.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump White House communications director, said that Short could provide critical evidence to the investigation.
“What he is going to be able to shed light on is what happened that day, the imminent danger that Vice President Pence was in,” Farah Griffin, who is now a CNN political commentator, said on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“He is also going to be able to talk about the pressure campaign prior by President Trump and some advisers around him to try to get the vice president to take on this extra-constitutional role and throw out the electors,” she said.
Short is known to be deeply loyal to Pence. For some Trump supporters, the fact he talked to the committee is likely to be seen as a betrayal by the ex-vice president himself.
But CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said that Short could be the “perfect witness.”
“(He) has a rare combination of two attributes,” Honig said. “One, it had to be a person who was powerful enough, well connected enough that he was in the room when the conversations were happening. And two, it has to be a person who has the access and power but is not blindly Trump loyal.”
New evidence of Trump’s temper
There have been enough accounts of Trump’s rages in the Oval Office to dampen surprise at the revelations that he tore up crucial documents. But the ex-President’s contempt for history and accountability still underscore the lawless character of his administration.
The Archives, in response to questions from CNN, said that “some of the Trump presidential records received by the National Archives and Records Administration included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.”
New details, meanwhile, about the lengths to which some Trump advisers were prepared to go to keep him in office emerged with the new reporting about the voting machines executive orders from CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Paula Reid.
The scheme to wield federal government power to access voting machines in states that Trump lost was the brainchild of retired Col. Phil Waldron and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, sources said. Both Army veterans spread misinformation about the election being stolen from Trump. Any operation for the military or federal agents to seize voting equipment for political purposes would have been unprecedented in US history.
The existence of a draft order tasking the Pentagon with seizing voting machines, which was first reported by Politico, came to light last month. That document has been handed over by the National Archives to the select committee. Multiple sources now tell CNN that a second version of the document, instructing DHS to carry out the same task, also exists.
New evidence only raises the stakes for the committee
Frequent new revelations about January 6, more than a year later, only hint at the mountain of information the House committee already has access to and the broad range of possible questions it might have for Pence.
Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who sits on the House select committee, told CNN on Sunday that no decision had been made on whether to try to talk to Trump or Pence but that it would “weigh heavily” on the committee to do so.
Given that Short and another key Pence aide – his former national security adviser, Keith Kellogg – have already testified to the committee, Pence may be hoping the panel will consider his aides have effectively spoken for him.
Any further sign of personal cooperation by Pence with a committee decried by Trump and House Republicans as a witch hunt would likely end what already looks like an unfeasible political balancing act. With an eye on a possible future White House bid, Pence has argued he did his constitutional duty on January 6 by defying Trump’s demands to help steal the election. But he’s tried to claim a piece of the ex-President’s political legacy all the same. Still, many Republicans remain skeptical that a vice president who had always shown ostentatious loyalty to Trump, but who broke with him at the last minute, has any future in a party that remains the ex-President’s personality cult.
As recently as Sunday, Trump issued a raging statement accusing Pence of failing to exercise nonexistent powers to simply select him as president for a second term when Congress met to count electoral votes on January 6, 2021.
Trump’s rant was a window into his state of mind and the grave threat any new term in the White House would pose to American democracy as he incessantly fixates on his false claims he was illegitimately forced from power. But it may also have been intended to intimidate Pence into going no further with the committee.
The statement from a notoriously vengeful ex-President also suggests that as long as Trump remains a force in the GOP, Pence will never realize his hopes of reaching the White House in his own right. His fate may have been settled for good when Trump told his crowd on January 6 to march on the Capitol to force the then-vice president to “do the right thing.” And Pence honored his duty to the Constitution instead.