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Justice Department seeks to interview Pence during Jan. 6 inquest

The Justice Department is seeking to interview former Vice President Mike Pence as a witness in its criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election , according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Pence, according to people familiar with his thinking, is willing to consider the request, acknowledging that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation is different from the House committee’s investigation on January 6, which he flatly rejected. the openings.

Complicating the situation would Mr. Trump attempt to invoke executive privilege to arrest him or limit his testimony, a step he has taken with limited success so far with other former officials. .

Mr. Pence was present at some of the critical moments in which Mr. Trump and his allies plotted to keep him in office and block Congressional certification of victory for Joseph R. Biden Jr. A deal for him to cooperate would be the remarkable latest twist in an investigation already fraught with legal and political consequences, involving a former president now a declared candidate to return to the White House – and whose potential rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination include Mr Pence.

Thomas Windom, one of the lead investigators looking into efforts to overturn the election, contacted Mr. Pence’s team in the weeks before Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed a special counsel on Friday to oversee the election. January 6 investigation and a separate investigation. in Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. Mr Garland said the appointment of special counsel Jack Smith will not slow down the investigation.

Justice Department officials declined to comment. A spokesman for Mr Pence also declined to comment.

Talks about questioning Mr Pence are said to be in their early stages. Mr. Pence has not been subpoenaed and the process could take months, as Mr. Trump may seek to block or slow down his testimony by trying to invoke executive privilege.

Mr. Trump has invoked executive privilege in an attempt to prevent other former senior officials from speaking with investigators. While these efforts have generally failed to stop officials from testifying before a federal grand jury, they have significantly slowed the process.

Mr. Trump’s efforts to slow or block testimony included asserting executive privilege over the testimony of two of Mr. Pence’s top aides: his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and his general counsel, Greg Jacob. But both men returned for grand jury talks after the Justice Department, in a closed-door court proceeding, fought off the effort to enforce executive privilege.

Mr. Pence, who has pushed back against Mr. Trump’s efforts to enlist him in the plan to block the certification of Electoral College results, has publicly criticized Mr. Trump’s conduct in the run-up to the 6 January against the Capitol and against the day of the attack, when members of a pro-Trump crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”

During an appearance in New Hampshire in August, Mr. Pence indicated that he was ready to appear before the House committee on January 6, which had been pressing for him to tell his story, but he offered caution.

“If there was an invitation to participate, I would consider it,” Mr Pence said at the time. But he added that he feared speaking to a congressional committee would violate the doctrine of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. “But as I said, I don’t want to prejudge. If ever a formal invitation came, he said, we would give it the full consideration it deserved.

However, in interviews for the release of his new book, “So Help Me God,” Mr. Pence was more adamant in his opposition to testifying before the House committee, saying that “Congress has not right to my testimony” about what he witnessed.

“There are deep separation of powers issues,” Mr. Pence told The New York Times in an interview. “And that would be a terrible precedent.”

But Mr. Pence, according to people familiar with his thinking, views the Justice Department investigation differently given that it is a criminal investigation. His testimony could be compelled by subpoena, although none have been issued.

The former vice president is represented by Emmet Flood, a Washington-based veteran attorney who served as Trump’s lead White House counsel investigating special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. in 2016.

Mr. Flood represents several other senior White House officials who end up as witnesses in the series of Congressional and Justice Department investigations into Mr. Trump, including Mr. Short.

A growing number of senior officials in Mr. Trump’s administration have received grand jury subpoenas as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into a wide range of efforts to nullify the election, including a plan to create fake pro-Trump voter lists in key swing states that were won by Mr Biden.

The wide-ranging subpoenas sought information on a host of topics, including the bogus election plan, attempts to portray the election as tainted by fraud, and the inner workings of the main post-election fundraising vehicle. Mr. Trump, the Save America PAC.

The effort to secure an interview with Mr. Pence puts both the department and the former vice president in uncharted territory.

Mr. Pence is eyeing a presidential campaign in 2024, in a race for which Mr. Trump has already announced his candidacy. And Mr. Biden’s Justice Department is seeking to use Mr. Pence as a potential witness against Mr. Trump; either could become a rival to Mr Biden if he runs again, which he said is likely.

Mr Pence detailed in his book Mr Trump’s efforts to stay in power and the pressure campaign he imposed on his vice president from December 2020.

Among other interactions he describes, Mr. Pence details how Mr. Trump summoned him to the Oval Office on January 4 to meet with a conservative lawyer named John Eastman, who has repeatedly argued that Mr. Pence may overstep ceremonial duties. oversight of the election. University certification by Congress. Mr. Eastman was promoting the idea that Mr. Pence had the power to overturn the results of states where Mr. Trump was still trying to challenge the result.

Mr. Pence writes that he told Mr. Trump he had no such authority. In an interview with The Times in relation to the book, Mr Pence was forceful, saying he was candid with Mr Trump that he couldn’t do what he wanted.

“In the weeks leading up to January 6, I repeatedly told the president that I had no authority to reject or return electoral votes,” Mr. Pence said in the interview. “It was clear he was getting different legal advice from an outside group of lawyers who, frankly, should never have been allowed into the building.”

During this period, Mr. Trump began to publicly pressure Mr. Pence, as well as Georgian officials, to go along with his efforts to stay in office. At the same time, Mr. Trump began using his Twitter account to try to draw a crowd to Washington for a “protest” at the Ellipse near the White House on Jan. 6, the day Congress certified him.

The Times previously reported that Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, Mr. Short, called Mr. Pence’s senior Secret Service agent, Tim Giebels, at his West Wing office on January 5, 2021. When Mr Giebels arrived at Mr Short’s office, the chief of staff said the president was going to turn on the vice president and they would be a security risk because of it, a conversation Mr Short said described to the House Select Committee. The committee released a video clip of Mr Short speaking at one of its public hearings this year.

Mr Trump addressed the crowd at the Ellipse at noon on January 6 and again pressured Mr Pence, whom he had called hours earlier in a renewed effort to persuade him to accept the ultimate plan to block certification. .

In his address to the Ellipse, Mr. Trump said: “You are never going to take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

He continued, “So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do. And I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and the stupid people he listens to.

Shortly after, Mr. Trump’s supporters marched to the Capitol, where Mr. Pence was. Hundreds of them stormed the building, smashing windows and kicking down doors, forcing Mr. Pence, his wife and daughter to flee his office in the Capitol and take refuge in an underground loading dock. He stayed there, trying to get the situation under control while Mr Trump watched television coverage of the riot at the White House.

Mr. Pence wrote about the experience in his book and has since described his anger that Mr. Trump was “reckless” and “endangered” Mr. Pence and his family.

Although Mr. Pence has witnessed a series of actions by Mr. Trump in office, an interview with the former vice president would be the first time he has been questioned in a federal investigation into Mr. Trump.

Mr. Pence was in the room for many key events examined by Mr. Mueller as part of the obstruction investigation, but Mr. Pence’s attorney at the time managed to shield him from duty to testify.

The attorney, Richard Cullen, met with Mr. Mueller and his team, telling them that Mr. Pence believed that Mr. Trump had not obstructed justice and what he would say if questioned.

Mr. Mueller’s team never interviewed Mr. Pence, and he was never called as a witness against Mr. Trump in Mr. Mueller’s final report.

Thrush Glenn contributed report.

nytimes Gt

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