As the U.S. Capitol came under attack on Jan. 6, 2021, then-Vice President Mike Pence and his family hid from rioters who wanted to hurt him for refusing to overturn the 2020 election results. In the months that followed, Pence defended his decision and denounced the violence — but he rarely mentioned Donald Trump in doing so.
More than a year after the attack, Pence told a group of conservative lawyers that Trump was “wrong” to think a single person could overturn the will of voters. In November, as Pence promoted his memoir and mulled a run for president, he began to place blame. At least seven times over the last four months, Pence has publicly said that Trump’s “reckless” words fueled the insurrection.
The latest statement came in a speech at a white-tie dinner hosted by journalists on Saturday night, during which Pence said: “President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
The remarks were nearly word-for-word what Pence said in previous interviews, with an added call for accountability — even after he declined to participate in a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and as he continues to fight a grand jury subpoena for a criminal investigation.
Here’s a timeline of what Pence has said about the Jan. 6 attack and Trump:
As vice president, Pence presided over the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6. He’d faced pressure from Trump’s inner circle for weeks to use this role to refuse to certify some states that Joe Biden won.
As Pence prepared to travel to the U.S. Capitol to oversee that certification, Trump held a rally on the White House grounds and said: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. … And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”
Soon after, as rioters arrived on the Capitol grounds, Pence posted a letter on Twitter calling his role “largely ceremonial” and making clear that he wouldn’t stand in the way of the transfer of power. The letter doesn’t mention Trump by name.
At 2:20 p.m., the Senate was called into recess because rioters breached the Capitol building. Pence and his family were taken to a secure location. Four minutes later, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
At 3:35 p.m., as lawmakers and others called on Trump to urge the rioters to stand down, the vice president called for an end to the violence on Twitter and said “those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Within the hour, Trump put out a video statement with much softer language.
Pence reopened the Senate at 8 p.m. He did not publicly say anything about Trump.
Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) January 6, 2021
At 3:32 a.m., Pence officially affirmed Biden’s win.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win,” Pence said in a floor speech. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house. And as we reconvene in this chamber the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy.” He did not mention Trump or GOP lawmakers who voted against the election’s certification.
About four months after leaving office, Pence spoke at a GOP dinner in New Hampshire and cast the former president as simply having a different perspective on what happened at the Capitol. “President Trump and I’ve spoken many times since we left office,” Pence said. “And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day. But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.”
Later that month, Pence gave a speech at a conservative conference in Florida, and the crowd chanted: “Traitor!”
In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Pence explained that the vice president does not possess “the authority to reject or return electoral votes certified by states.”
“And the truth is, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” Pence said.
He repeatedly praised Trump but did not directly connect him to the Capitol attack and attacked Democrats investigating the Jan. 6 attack for being “intent on dividing our country to advance their leftist agenda.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pence reiterated that he “did the right thing” in certifying the election results. Pence said he believed “there were irregularities” in voting, but said he didn’t think Congress was the appropriate venue to resolve those disputes because “elections are to be governed at the state level.”
“I know in my heart of hearts that on that day, we did our duty, under the Constitution,” Pence said. He added: “I don’t know if President Trump and I will ever see eye to eye on that day. Or that many of our most ardent supporters will agree with my decision that day. But I know I did the right thing.”
More than a year after the attack, Pence told a crowd of conservative lawyers at a Federalist Society conference that Trump was “wrong” to say that Pence had the authority to overturn the 2020 election results. He reiterated that it is “un-American” to try to subvert elections and said that Jan. 6 was a “dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.”
Pence’s name repeatedly came up during hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and several of his advisers and former aides testified. But he never did. The day after the committee held its final hearing before the midterm election, snippets of Pence’s soon-to-be-published memoir emerged on Oct. 14.
The jacket copy of the memoir said: “On January 6, 2021, as the president pressured him to overturn the election, a mob erected a gallows on Capitol Hill and its members chanted ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ as they rampaged through the halls of Congress. The vice president refused to leave the Capitol, and once the riot was quelled, he reconvened Congress to complete the work of a peaceful transfer of power.”
The memoir also described a “tight bond” between Pence and Trump that “broke down after the 2020 election.”
As Pence prepared for the Nov. 15 release of his memoir, he said in an interview with ABC News that Trump’s “words that day at the rally endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building.” He added that Trump’s comments were “reckless” and said, “It was clear he decided to be part of the problem.”
“I turned to my daughter, who was standing nearby, and I said, ‘It doesn’t take courage to break the law. It takes courage to uphold the law,’” Pence said.
Pence’s memoir, titled “So Help Me God,” opens with the Jan. 6 attack. He blames Trump for believing “crank” lawyers who laid the groundwork for “a tragic day in January” and for egging on the rioters with his tweet.
“The truth was, as reckless as the president’s tweet was, I really didn’t have time for it. Rioters were ransacking the Capitol,” Pence wrote. “Some of them, I was later told, were chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ The president had decided to be part of the problem. I was determined to be part of the solution. I ignored the tweet and got back to work.”
Pence also wrote that Trump told him he was being “too honest” when he refused to help in overturning the 2020 election results.
Pence wrote in the book’s epilogue that the two men couldn’t reconcile given Trump’s continued attacks on his decision to not contest the election. “I decided it would be best to go our separate ways.” He wrote that he told Trump he’d continue to pray for him.
In an interview with NBC News, Pence blamed Trump’s legal counsel for misleading him about the 2020 election and said he hoped the Department of Justice would not charge the former president.
“I think the president’s actions and words on January 6th were reckless,” Pence said. “But I don’t know that it is criminal to take bad advice from lawyers. And so I hope the Justice Department is careful.”
During a CBS News “Face the Nation” interview, Pence repeated his talking points yet again.
“The president’s words and actions in and around January 6 were reckless,” Pence said. He added that Trump’s tweets on Jan. 6 “endangered my family and endangered people that were in the Capitol and was indefensible.”
In a clip of the interview published on Nov. 16, 2022, Pence also said he was “closing the door” on speaking with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. The committee called the move “disappointing” in a statement.
And Pence repeated those talking points again during an NPR interview. “President Trump was wrong, and his words and actions that day were reckless,” Pence said. “They endangered my family and people at the Capitol building. And I’ll never hold any other view.”
Asked whether he still considers Trump a “good man,” as he said during the 2016 speech accepting his vice-presidential nomination, Pence replied, “I truly do believe that only God knows our hearts,” and “I’ll leave it to others to make their own judgments.”
And Pence repeated those words again during an appearance at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics: “His words were reckless. They endangered my family, and they endangered everyone at the Capitol. … In that moment, he decided to be part of the problem.”
Pence also explained his reasoning for rebuffing congressional inquiries. “Congress has no right to my testimony,” Pence told the audience. When asked why he wrote a book about his account but didn’t testify to the House, he said, “I think the American people deserve my story.”
In a December interview with PBS News Hour, Pence said he met with Trump several days after the attack. Trump did not apologize, Pence said, but the former vice president said he sensed “a deep remorse” within Trump.
Host Judy Woodruff pressed Pence on why he supported the Trump campaign’s post-election lawsuits and would not declare Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud were not backed up by evidence.
“It never occurred to me … that the violence of that day would ensue,” Pence said. “And the tragedy that unfolded that day was something that I, frankly, never imagined.”
The Justice Department issued Pence a subpoena as part of the special counsel investigating potential criminal interference by Trump in the 2020 election, media outlets reported on Feb. 9. Pence’s legal counsel has decided to fight the order.
Speaking to reporters in Iowa on Feb. 15, Pence said the subpoena was “unconstitutional” and that he’d fight the case “as far as it needs to go, if needs be to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
“No vice president in American history has ever been compelled to testify against a president with whom they served. But we live in unprecedented times,” Pence said during a Feb. 16 speech in which he vowed to “fight the subpoena from Biden’s DOJ.”
As a featured speaker at the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner, Pence cracked jokes about Trump’s legal troubles and made his strongest rebuke yet of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack.
“Donald Trump was wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
He continued: “The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6th. But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”