Donald Trump‘s defence attorney says the former president never asked Mike Pence to overturn the will of the voters in the 2020 election, but only wanted the former vice president to “pause” the certification of votes to allow states to investigate his claims of election fraud. Those baseless claims had already been rejected by numerous courts.
Speaking on several Sunday morning news shows, Trump attorney John Lauro said Mr Trump was within his First Amendment rights when he petitioned Mr Pence to delay the certification on 6 January 2021.
“The ultimate ask of Vice President Pence was to pause the counts and allow the states to weigh in,” Mr Lauro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He added that Mr Trump was convinced there were irregularities in the election that needed to be investigated by state authorities before the election could be certified.
Mr Pence, who like Mr Trump is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, flatly rejected that account during an interview Sunday, saying Mr Trump seemed “convinced” as early as December that Pence had the right to reject or return votes and that on 6 January, Trump’s attorneys told him “’We want you to reject votes outright.”
“They were asking me to overturn the election. I had no right to overturn the election,” Mr Pence said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Mr Pence’s role in certifying Joe Biden‘s win over Mr Trump in the 2020 election makes him a central figure in the prosecution against Mr Trump on charges that he sought to overturn the will of the voters and remain in office even after the courts had roundly rejected his claims of electoral fraud. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general also had said there were was no credible evidence the election was tainted.
Last week’s indictment chronicles how Mr Trump and his allies, in what special counsel Jack Smith described as an attack on a “bedrock function of the US government,” repeatedly lied about the results in the two months after he lost the election and pressured Mr Pence and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power. Those efforts culminated on 6 January 2021, when Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification.
Mr Trump pleaded not guilty to those charges. Separately, he also faces charges that he falsified business records relating to hush money payments to a porn actor in New York and improperly kept classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort and obstructed an investigation into their handling.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Mr Lauro said Mr Pence’s testimony will show Mr Trump believed the election was rigged and that he was listening to the advice of his attorneys when he sought to delay the certification. Mr Pence, who appeared before the grand jury that indicted Mr Trump, said he will comply with the law if asked to testify.
“I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to cross examine Mr. Pence,” Mr Lauro said. “He will completely eliminate any doubt that President Trump firmly believed that the election irregularities had led to an inappropriate result.”
The indictment details how people close to Mr Trump repeatedly told him he had lost and that there was no truth to his claims of fraud. In one encounter days before the riot, Mr Trump told Mr Pence he was “too honest” after the vice president said he didn’t have the authority to reject electoral votes, the indictment says. Former allies of Mr Trump have said Mr Trump knew he lost but spread false claims about fraud anyway.
“He knew well that he had lost the election,” Mr Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr said in an interview last week.
Mr Lauro said Mr Trump’s defence team will seek to move the case from Washington because it wants a more diverse jury. He said he would support televising the trial, and dismissed speculation that it could wrap up before the 2024 election.
“In 40 years of practicing law, on a case of this magnitude, I’ve not known a single case to go to trial before two to three years,” Mr Lauro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Responding to questions about whether Mr Trump can get a fair trial in the nation’s capitol, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he can.
“Yes, I believe jurors can be fair. I believe in the American people,” Mr Christie said on CNN.
Trump’s legal team has until 5pm Monday to respond to the prosecution’s request for a protective order limiting Mr Trump’s ability to publicly disclose information about the case. The decision is up to US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Protective orders are common in criminal cases, but prosecutors said it’s “particularly important in this case” because Mr Trump has posted on social media about “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others associated with legal matters pending against him.”
Prosecutors pointed specifically to a post on Mr Trump’s Truth Social platform from Friday in which Mr Trump wrote, in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”