Former Vice President Mike Pence wrote in his new memoir that former President Donald Trump warned him days before the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol that he would inspire the hatred of hundreds of thousands of people because he was “too honest” to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The comments are part of the vivid ending of Pence’s new memoir, “So Help Me God.” It’s being released as Trump prepares what an aide has said will be the launch of his 2024 presidential campaign Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago.
Pence has also hinted at his own potential 2024 run, recently telling ABC News he thinks “we’ll have better choices in the future” than Trump. But in his memoir, he largely defends Trump – touting the former president’s achievements, downplaying controversies and excusing Trump’s personal vendettas, including against the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Still, Pence – who said Trump was “reckless” with his tweet attacking his vice president that day – was critical of Trump over the events surrounding the insurrection, writing that he told Trump directly afterward that he was angry and that what he’d seen that day infuriated him.
“The truth was, as reckless as the president’s tweet was, I really didn’t have time for it. Rioters were ransacking the Capitol,” Pence wrote. “Some of them, I was later told, were chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ The president had decided to be part of the problem. I was determined to be part of the solution. I ignored the tweet and got back to work.”
The conversations between Trump and Pence have been one of the key themes of the House’s January 6 committee hearings, and the book gives Pence, who has not testified before the committee, the chance to weigh in on his exchanges with Trump.
Pence said that he’d begun election night in 2020 confident, but things changed later in the evening, he wrote, when results in states with large shares of mail-in ballots “began to shift” and the Trump-Pence ticket’s lead “started to vanish.”
“The mood in the White House, initially ebullient, began to sour,” Pence wrote.
He described watching Trump claim in an early Wednesday morning speech that the election process had been “a fraud on the American public” and said the days that followed the election were “a little like the twilight zone,” as Trump’s team challenged states’ results.
The Saturday after the election, Pence wrote, Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner called him to ask whether he thought there had been fraud in the election. He told Kushner there likely was some fraud, but he doubted it was why they’d lost, according to the book.
Here are other key moments Pence described in his memoir:
‘What if we hadn’t had the rally?’
While Pence acknowledges the reality of the electoral vote count, he does not describe Joe Biden as having won the 2020 race fairly, or take issue with the Trump campaign’s strategy of fighting swing states’ results in court. He discusses turning the Texas effort to challenge some states’ electoral votes into an applause line while campaigning in Georgia for two Republican senators in runoff elections.
Pence wrote that he asked his general counsel for a briefing on the procedures of the Electoral Count Act after Trump in a December 5 phone call “mentioned challenging the election results in the House of Representatives for the first time.”
Over lunch on December 21, Pence wrote, he tried to steer Trump to listen to the White House counsel’s team’s advice, rather than outside lawyers.
“I said, ‘You’ve got a good team at the White House,’ to which he grumbled, ‘No, I don’t,’” Pence wrote. “If the president had chosen to listen to those good men and not the gaggle of outside lawyers who took over the election challenges from the campaign, things would have been very different.”
Pence wrote that Trump told him in a New Year’s Day phone call: “You’re too honest,” he chided, predicting that “hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts” and “people are gonna think you’re stupid.”
“Mr. President, I don’t question there were irregularities and fraud,” Pence wrote that he told Trump. “It’s just a question of who decides, and under the law that is Congress.”
“With that, the president said that he guessed it probably just ‘takes courage,’ implying that was what I lacked,” Pence continued. “I paused before replying and, facing him from my seat in front of the Resolute Desk, said firmly, ‘Mr. President, I have courage, and you know that.’”
Pence wrote that Trump relented and “said with more than a little sadness, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to say you did a great disservice.’”
Pence, who said he refused to leave the Capitol on January 6, also wrote about his meeting with Trump in the days after January 6. Trump asked Pence, “Were you scared?” the former vice president wrote. “‘No,’ I replied, ‘I was angry. You and I had our differences that day, Mr. President, and seeing those people tearing up the Capitol infuriated me.’”
Pence wrote that he told Trump he was praying for him and encouraged him to pray. Trump didn’t say anything initially, Pence said, and then responded with “genuine sadness” in his voice: “What if we hadn’t had the rally? What if they hadn’t gone to the Capitol?”
A personal warning to Putin
Pence wrote that in 2018, when he was representing the United States at the ASEAN conference in Singapore – the type of meeting he says Trump “was never big on” – he was approached at a plenary session with a tap on the shoulder by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I noticed that Putin projected a familiarity toward me. It came, I concluded, from his friendly meeting with Trump earlier in the year. It was as if we were old acquaintances,” Pence wrote. “I didn’t return the favor. I kept my expression firm and fixed, and the photo of me looking down at him with a furrowed brow and a grim expression was published around the world, just as I’d hoped it would be.”
At the end of the session, during a brief meeting requested by the Russians, Pence said Putin “was just inches from me, expecting a friendly chat.”
When Putin wrapped up his comments about restarting nuclear nonproliferation negotiations, Pence said he told the Russian leader: “Mr. President, we know what happened in 2016, and it can’t happen again.”
“Though Putin speaks English, he listened as his translator leaned in, relaying my message. His expression grew incredulous. He turned with a question to his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, presumably asking what I was talking about. The only word I recognized was ‘elections,’” Pence wrote. “Then he spoke through his translator, saying Russia had nothing to do with the election. To which I responded, ‘Mr. President, I’m very aware of what you’ve said about that, but I’m telling you we know what happened in 2016, and it can’t happen again.’ Putin seemed taken aback. Then he shrugged and changed the subject back to his upcoming summit in Argentina.”
Pence wrote that it was “absolutely right” for the FBI to investigate claims of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, but pushed back on the idea “the investigation was into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia and into Trump himself.”
Pence acknowledged that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election but insisted “its mischief had not elected Trump president” and called it an “attempt to sow discord, to destabilize US democracy, to spread false information across both left-wing and right-wing platforms so as to turn Americans against one another.”
“I always had the impression that the president felt that acknowledging Russian meddling would somehow cheapen our victory,” he wrote. “But in my view, there was no reason for Trump not to call out Russia’s bad behavior; it wasn’t an admission of collusion but a declaration that our intelligence services knew what Putin’s regime had been up to. I had no problem calling Russia out.”
Meeting with North Koreans at 2018 Olympics scrapped
Pence confirmed that he had been set to meet with North Korean officials during the 2018 Olympic Games, but the meeting was pulled down hours beforehand by Pyongyang.
The North Koreans had been the ones pushing for engagement in Pyeongchang, Pence said, also noting that former South Korean President Moon Jae-in had “wanted to politely force a meeting.”
The former vice president said that while the Olympics began, “the North Korean government was making back-channel overtures to me about having a meeting.”
“I relayed the information to Trump. See what they have to say, he told me. If the meeting can be arranged, take it,” Pence recounted.
The meeting “appeared to be a go” and was arranged to take place on Pence’s last day in South Korea, at the Blue House. However, “two hours before the meeting was set to begin, we got word that the North Koreans were no longer willing to participate and we were told that the order ‘came from Pyongyang,’ leading to speculation that Kim Jong Un was irritated by my refusal to engage with his sister while the cameras clicked and the world watched.”
Pence had been seated in the same box with Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, at the Olympic Stadium, but as Pence put it: “I ignored her.”
The former vice president also described what he said were efforts by the former South Korean leader to get him to engage with the North Korean leaders.
“Before the opening ceremony, there was a large reception and dinner for the two hundred national leaders in attendance,” he recalled, noting that Moon had arranged for he and the North Koreans to be seated at the head table, and that “a group photograph was arranged at the outset of the banquet.” Pence and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intentionally arrived late to the banquet and did not participate in the group photo.
“That would have been a huge symbolic victory for North Korea. No chance,” Pence said.
Trump’s relationship with Fauci
Pence delves into his role in the Trump administration’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic, and details the relationship between Trump and Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.
Pence praised Fauci, writing, “I was glad he was there. He was a reassuring voice to the public; Mitch McConnell had advised me, correctly, that Fauci would be a valuable member of the team because of his stature.”
However, Pence expressed how he didn’t understand why Fauci “was so insistent that Covid-19 had not emerged from a Chinese lab,” adding that he believed Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during most of the Trump administration, held a correct assessment in the lab leak theory.
“Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC always held that it had, and the more we have learned, the more I believe that Bob was right,” Pence wrote.
Pence commented on Trump and Fauci’s relationship, writing that it was “very good” initially.
“Trump is from Queens, Fauci from Brooklyn, and Fauci was not put off by Trump’s New York brashness. He had grown up around it. He is a brash New Yorker, too,” Pence wrote.
Frustration with McCain over Obamacare vote
Pence detailed the personal angst between Trump and McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who died in 2018. Trump had attacked McCain during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he didn’t consider the man who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam to be a hero.
“They were both sharp-elbowed men who punched back hard when attacked. But I always believed that had McCain lived, they would eventually have become friends,” Pence wrote.
He also made clear that he still resents the terminally ill McCain’s return to the Senate floor to cast the vote that would doom the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Pence wrote that he had put Trump and McCain on the phone together. McCain, in Pence’s retelling of the call, told Trump he was honored by the call, and gave no indication he would vote against the GOP bill.
“Then he walked out of the office, onto the Senate floor, caught the eye of the Senate clerk, gave a thumbs-down, walked over to his desk, and sat down,” Pence wrote. “There was an audible gasp. The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare was dead. The Trump administration had just been knocked back on its heels. Trump was irate. I was, too.”
Pence wrote that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain, “deserved better” on the Obamacare repeal effort from his friend.
“In a fitting twist, immediately after McCain voted down Obamacare repeal, Rand Paul blocked consideration of the fiscal-year spending for the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State, which was nicknamed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act,” Pence wrote. “Trump was delighted. McCain was incensed. He actually said, ‘It is unfortunate that one senator chose to block consideration of a bill our nation needs right now.’ Takes one to know one.”