(Bloomberg) -- Former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a federal grand jury investigating the plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election, giving him the opportunity to deal his former boss Donald Trump a major blow as they head toward a possible face-off in next year’s GOP nominating contest.
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Pence became the highest-ranking former government official to testify before a federal grand jury in Washington, potentially providing damaging details about what Trump and his allies did in the days before the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Pence spent several hours Thursday before a federal grand jury in Washington being used by Special Counsel Jack Smith, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because grand jury matters are secret. It wasn’t immediately clear what he said or what he was asked about.
Pence is a key witness for the investigation because he had personal conversations with Trump and was the subject of a pressure campaign to thwart certification of electors from states that Trump lost when Pence presided over a joint session of Congress to confirm the election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
The special counsel’s pursuit of evidence from Pence comes as the former vice president is considering challenging his former boss for the 2024 Republican nomination. While Trump has already declared his candidacy, Pence has not, but instead has said “I think we’ll have better choices” than Trump.
Pence testified the day after a panel of judges from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against Trump’s effort to prevent him from speaking to the grand jury. The appearance appears to head off any possible bid by Trump’s lawyers to continue to fight Pence’s testimony. Trump could have asked for the full appellate court to reconsider or asked the US Supreme Court justices to intervene, but didn’t immediately do so in the hours after an order came down Wednesday night.
Spokespeople for Pence and the special counsel’s office declined to comment. A Trump representative did not immediately respond for a request to comment.
Pence has said he didn’t have the power under the US Constitution to do what Trump wanted on Jan. 6. He has said the former president’s rhetoric at a rally right before the insurrection was “reckless” and that he was “angered” by Trump’s tweet saying Pence didn’t have the courage to do what must be done — posted while the assault on the Capitol was underway and Pence and his family were fleeing the rioters.
Some rioters hunted Pence, saying they wanted to execute him by a hanging. Pence has said he and Trump will probably never make amends with regard to what happened that day.
Pence rebuffed Trump’s pressure campaign to interfere with Congress’s certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, and he has spoken publicly about that since he left office, though not under oath.
Trump, meanwhile, denounced Smith’s investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt orchestrated by the Biden administration. Trump could try to spin any perceived cooperation by Pence should they go up against each other on the campaign trail.
Smith’s office subpoenaed Pence earlier this year. A federal judge ruled, however, that Pence wold not have to talk to the grand jury about his constitutional role on Jan. 6 as presiding officer of the Senate.
In his book, “So Help Me God,” Pence details the pressure campaign Trump waged both publicly and in private. That included calls from Trump and a meeting alone with him on Jan. 5 in the Oval Office and a final call he received from Trump at 11 a.m. on Jan. 6 — Pence said Trump “laid into me” for not being willing to overturn the election.
“‘You’ll go down as a wimp,’ he predicted, adding, ‘If you do that, I made a big mistake five years ago,’” Pence wrote, referring to Trump’s decision to pick Pence as his running mate. “But when he said, ‘You’re not protecting our country, you’re supposed to support and defend our country,’ I calmly reminded him we both took an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
(Updates with background, information from Pence book.)
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