By Tom Ozimek
Former President Donald Trump’s attorney said Sunday that he welcomes former Vice President Mike Pence’s testimony and expects it could be key in proving Mr. Trump’s innocence in a case over whether the former president committed crimes in connection with efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 election.
Attorney John Lauro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mr. Trump’s defense team believes Mr. Pence’s court testimony could be crucial in exonerating the former president of any wrongdoing in the so-called Jan. 6 case.
In the case, special counsel Jack Smith has charged Mr. Trump with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding—the certification of the electoral vote—and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.
Mr. Trump, the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 presidential election, has pleaded not guilty and has alleged that the case is a form of election interference meant to thwart his White House bid.
‘Our Best Witness’
In his appearance on CBS, Mr. Lauro said he believes Mr. Pence “will be our best witness” whose testimony could prove that Mr. Trump genuinely believed he was robbed of victory in 2020 and followed expert legal advice in seeking to challenge the results with no criminal intent to his actions.
“The reason why Vice President Pence will be so important to the defense is … number one, he agrees that John Eastman, who gave legal advice to President Trump, was an esteemed legal scholar,” Mr. Lauro told the outlet.
“Number two, he agrees that there were election irregularities, fraud, unlawful actions at the state level. All of that will eviscerate any allegation of criminal intent on the part of President Trump,” he added.
Mr. Lauro added that Mr. Pence believed doubts around the 2020 election were legitimate enough to warrant debate during the proceedings on Jan. 6, 2021, when lawmakers assembled Capitol Hill to certify the Electoral College vote.
Ahead of Jan. 6, Mr. Pence’s chief of staff said that the former vice president welcomed an effort by some lawmakers to raise objections on Jan. 6.
“Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,” Marc Short, who was then Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, said in a statement on Jan. 2, 2021.
Mr. Lauro added that there was a “constitutional disagreement” between Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence around whether the vice president at the time had the legal authority to reject questionable electoral votes and kick the issue back to the states for further debate or audit.
The attorney said that, at the end of the day, what Mr. Trump wanted from Mr. Pence to do on Jan. 6 was not to overturn the results of the election but stop the counting of electoral votes to allow further debate at the state level.
“The ultimate ask of Vice President Pence was to pause the counts and allow the states to weigh in,” Mr. Lauro said.
He added that Mr. Trump was convinced there were irregularities in the election that needed to be investigated by state authorities before final certification.
“The bottom line is never, never in our country’s history, have those kinds of disagreements been prosecuted criminally,” he added.
Mr. Lauro rejected the notion that Mr. Trump would plead guilty under any circumstances and that his defense team will seek a motion to dismiss the case.
Pence Insists He Had No Authority to Return Votes Back to States
Mr. Pence, meanwhile, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he had no right to reject electoral votes on Jan. 6.
“President Trump was wrong. He was wrong then. He’s wrong now. I had no right to overturn the election,” Mr. Pence told the outlet.
Asked about the characterization by Mr. Lauro that all that he was asked to do on Jan. 6 was to delay the proceedings so that states could carry out an audit of the votes, Mr. Pence disputed that portrayal.
“That’s not what happened,” Mr. Pence told the outlet. “From sometime in the middle of December, the president began to be told that I had some authority to reject or return votes back to the states. I had no such authority. No vice president in American history had ever asserted that authority and no one ever should.”
While Mr. Pence acknowledged that the issue of whether the vice president has the authority to reject electoral votes “ebbed and flowed between different legal theories” but that, at the end of the day, Mr. Pence became convinced he did not have the legal authority to do so.
In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Pence insisted that Mr. Trump’s team had asked him outright to overturn the results of the election.
“They were asking me to overturn the election. I had no right to overturn the election,” Mr. Pence told the outlet.
Meanwhile, Mr. Pence said recently that he’s unsure whether or not Mr. Trump actually committed any crime in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.
“I don’t know, honestly I don’t know the full case … that the government has. I think I’ve said on your network many times that I don’t know if taking bad advice from lawyers is a crime,” Mr. Pence said an interview with Fox News.
The former vice president later added that he believes it is best to “leave that legal process, and frankly the profound issues about the First Amendment, to the courts to sort that out.”
Asked during the CBS interview whether he thought the criminal indictment against Mr. Trump is a political persecution of the former president, as Mr. Trump has alleged, the former vice president said he’s not sure.
“I don’t know whether the government has the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support this case,” Mr. Pence said, while adding that he’s been “very concerned about politicization at the Justice Department for years,” mentioning the so-called Russia hoax and the impeachment of Mr. Trump over a phone call.