The 45-page indictment accusing former president Donald Trump of criminal schemes in his effort to overturn the 2020 election results references Mike Pence or the office of the vice presidency more than 100 times, reflecting Pence’s role as a central figure in the charging document.
Pence took “contemporaneous notes” about Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn the 45th president’s electoral defeat in the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, according to the indictment, which includes some new specific allegations about a defining chapter of Pence’s career and a key point of contention in his long-shot 2024 presidential campaign against his former boss. Pence rejected Trump’s pressure to try to reverse the election results in his role certifying the outcome, leading to a fracture that has persisted to this day.
The notes are explicitly cited twice in the document. The first reference highlights that Trump, on Dec. 29, 2020, allegedly told Pence that the Justice Department was “finding major infractions,” according to the notes. The second details a Jan. 4, 2021, meeting, where Trump allegedly repeated his false claims of widespread election fraud. During that meeting, according to the document, Pence questioned Trump lawyer John Eastman’s proposal to send the election results back to the states, asking if it was “defensible.”
After Eastman — identified from descriptions as “Co-Conspirator 2” — suggested that “nobody’s tested it before,” Pence allegedly told Trump, “Even your own counsel is not saying I have that authority.”
Pence served Trump loyally for four years, and the former president’s pressure to overturn the 2020 election results marked their only public break during the Trump-Pence administration. The indictment offers a timeline of private phone calls that allegedly occurred between Trump and Pence in the lead-up to Jan. 6, in which Trump pressured Pence to interfere with the election results.
The document references an alleged Christmas Day exchange between Trump and Pence. “On December 25, when the Vice President called the Defendant to wish him a Merry Christmas, the Defendant quickly turned the conversation to January 6 and his request that the Vice President reject electoral votes that day,” the document says. “The Vice President pushed back, telling the Defendant, as the Vice President already had in previous conversations, ‘You know I don’t think | have the authority to change the outcome.’”
On Jan. 1, Trump eviscerated Pence for opposing a lawsuit that suggested he had the authority to reject the state election results, the indictment alleges. When Pence told him he did not have the constitutional authority to do so, Trump told him, “You’re too honest,” according to the document.
It is historically rare for a former vice president to take on a president he served under, and the indictment document offered the latest example of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Pence’s White House run, which has met head winds so far including resistance among some Republican voters to his stance on Jan. 6.
Trump is the clear polling leader in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, while Pence has struggled to build momentum, with surveys showing him well behind. Trump has faced other criminal indictments this year before the one released Tuesday. Those previous charges appeared to trigger a political rallying effect behind him in the GOP primary.
Pence, meanwhile, has faced political backlash for the false claims Trump has long made about the 2020 election and Jan. 6, some allies recently acknowledged. “The reality is Mike had very high favorables until the president started misrepresenting the events of Jan. 6,” Pence adviser Marc Short recently told The Washington Post. “I think you see a direct correlation.”
Pence made Jan. 6 a key focus of his June campaign launch in Iowa, suggesting that Trump’s actions that day disqualified him from being president again. While he doesn’t typically mention Jan. 6 in his stump speeches on the campaign trail, he reiterated Tuesday that the latest indictment “serves as an important reminder: Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.”
“The former president is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but with this indictment, his candidacy means more talk about January 6th and more distractions,” Pence said in a statement. “On January 6th, former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will.”
Trump’s pressure campaign against Pence in the events leading up to Jan. 6 is prominently featured in the first of four criminal counts lodged against Trump in the indictment, “Conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The indictment document details at length the ways in which Trump attempted to pressure Pence to overturn the election results, pointing to specific tweets. In the lead-up to Jan. 6, Trump claimed on Twitter that “the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” The charging document alleges that when Trump and Pence met privately on Jan. 5, Pence continued to refuse to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election results. Trump later said in a statement, “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act,” despite Pence’s refusal.
The charging document alleges that Trump “turned to knowingly false statements aimed at pressuring the Vice President of fraudulently alter the election outcome and raised publicly the false expectation that the Vice President might do so,” including on the morning of Jan. 6.
Many of the allegations in the document involving Pence also surfaced in the investigation a congressional panel held into the Jan. 6 riot. While several of Pence’s top aides testified to the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack, Pence did not meet with the committee, citing the separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.
He initially also resisted a subpoena from the team of special counsel Jack Smith, but in March, a judge ruled that Pence could shield from prosecutors only material that related directly to his actions as president of the Senate on Jan. 6. He subsequently turned over documents, presumably including the notes cited in the indictment, and he also testified before the grand jury in April.
Tuesday’s document also highlights excerpts from a speech Trump gave on Jan. 6, in which he singled out Pence and told the crowd that he hoped Pence was “going to do the right thing.” Pence had issued a statement early that afternoon saying he did not have “unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”
After rioters broke into the Capitol, Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.”
The document details that one minute after the tweet, the Secret Service evacuated Pence to a secure location. It also depicts scenes from the Capitol that day, including members of the crowd chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Even after Congress went back into session after the attack, Eastman sought to pressure Pence’s legal counsel over the Electoral Count Act until the very end, the document says.
At 11:44 p.m., according to the document, Eastman emailed the vice president’s legal counsel, stating: “I implore you to consider one more relatively minor violation [of the ECA] and adjourn for 10 days to allow the legislatures to finish their investigations, as well as to allow a full forensic audit of the massive amount of illegal activity that has occurred here.”