WASHINGTON — “This may be the most important thing I ever sign,” then-Vice President Mike Pence reportedly said shortly before declaring in his letter dated Jan. 6, 2021, that no one person has the power to determine who will hold the office of president of the United States.
Within a few hours, rioters hoping to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss would come within roughly 40 feet of confronting and, as they claimed, attempting to kill Pence for what they considered his betrayal.
“I could hear the din of the rioters,” Greg Jacob, Pence’s former White House counsel, testified before the House Jan. 6 committee on Thursday. “I was not aware they were as close as that.” Jacob was with Pence and his family as they were being shepherded by the Secret Service to a secure location.
Jacob’s testimony may be the closest the public comes to hearing from one of the key players in stopping the Jan. 6 insurrection. Although Thursday’s third hearing of the House Jan. 6 committee focused almost singularly on Pence — committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, who like the others on the panel survived the attack, said Pence helped uphold democracy in the face of Trump’s scheme and the Capitol riot — Pence himself said nothing about the hearing or Jan. 6.
Instead, the former vice president and potential 2024 presidential candidate spent the day campaigning for Republicans in Ohio while his top deputies told the harrowing story, much of it coming from Jacob, who was with Pence through critical meetings at the White House and at the Capitol as rioters almost attacked them.
As one of his closest aides at the time, Jacob conveyed the gravity of Pence’s predicament as he faced a relentless pressure campaign from Trump and his allies to help overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.
Early in December 2020, Pence had asked Jacob to research a theory that he had the power to reject slates of electors from the states, which would hypothetically let him reject his own election loss, and Trump’s, and keep control of the White House.
Jacob said Pence’s first instinct when he heard this theory was that there’s no way the framers would have put one person in a role to have a decisive impact on the election. And Jacob’s research, he said, confirmed Pence’s initial thoughts.
Jacob came back with a review of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and one, as he said, “inartfully” written line in the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution detailing the vice president’s duties, and concluded that the vice president possesses no such power.
Jacob recalled the pressure applied by Trump and his ally John Eastman, who argued repeatedly that Pence had the power to reject the election results — something that even Eastman himself once acknowledged was illegal, according to Jacob’s testimony.
And throughout Thursday’s hearing, Jacob offered a rare look into Pence’s thinking in those moments, as the former vice president has been supremely reticent to discuss the insurrection.
“I can’t wait to go to heaven and meet the framers and tell them, ‘The work that you did in putting together our Constitution is a work of genius. Thank you. It was divinely inspired. There is one sentence that I would like to talk to you a little bit about,’” Jacob recalled Pence saying, in reference to the 12th Amendment.
In the days and hours leading up to the Jan. 6 certification, Jacob recounted Pence’s interactions with Trump and Eastman, including his reaction to Trump’s final entreaty in a phone call that morning after Trump reportedly called Pence a “p***y” for not agreeing to help him overturn the election results.
“When he came back into the room, I’d say that he was steely, determined, grim,” Jacob said.
Jacob said that after the riot, Eastman again asked for Pence to delay certification, to which he quoted Pence as saying, “That’s rubber room stuff,” meaning Pence thought it was “certifiably crazy.”