There is no shortage of commentary about the indictment of Donald Trump on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 election. So I want to spend a few moments taking a look at Mike Pence. In reading the 45-page indictment last night I was struck, once again, at how decently and courageously Pence acted when faced with the greatest challenge of his public life.
I can’t understand why liberals and conservatives are so reluctant to give him any credit, blowing past his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, and focusing instead on his previous
eight four* years as an obsequious Trump toady and his status as a theocratic right-wing extremist. That’s fine. He deserves that criticism. But before and during the insurrection, Pence acted with moral courage, telling Trump repeatedly that he would follow the Constitution by certifying Joe Biden’s victory, and with physical courage, refusing to flinch after Trump whipped up an enraged mob that surely would have killed him if given the opportunity.
“You’re too honest,” Trump reportedly told Pence on Jan. 1 after learning that Pence would not reject or return to the states electoral votes that had been properly cast.
If you’re not inclined to give Pence his due, think about what would have happened if he’d gone along with Trump’s corrupt scheming and Trump had attempted to remain in office. As one administration official is quoted as saying, there would be “riots in every major city in the United States.” To which Co-Conspirator 4 (identified as Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark) is said to have replied, “Well, that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.” And there you have it: Troops in the streets, gunning down members of the public in order to keep Trump in office.
We all owe Mike Pence a debt of gratitude.
• We are already hearing a lot of misguided commentary that special counsel Jack Smith will need to prove that Trump knew he was lying about the outcome of the election in order to show that Trump committed the crimes with which he has been charged. For instance, David French of The New York Times, an anti-Trump conservative and lawyer whose analysis I have come to rely on, nevertheless gets it wrong when he writes:
There’s little doubt that Trump conspired to interfere with or obstruct the transfer of power after the 2020 election. But to prevail in the case, the government has to prove that he possessed an intent to defraud or to make false statements. In other words, if you were to urge a government official to overturn election results based on a good faith belief that serious fraud had altered the results, you would not be violating the law. Instead, you’d be exercising your First Amendment rights.
I don’t think that’s right. Regardless of whether Trump believed he’d been a victim of voter fraud, it’s indisputable that he knew Biden had been declared the winner. Trump’s beliefs did not give him the right to put together slates of fake electors, which the indictment devastatingly describes as morphing from a semi-legitimate contingency plan into a flat-out attempt to dislodge the real electors. And it surely did not give him the right to foment a violent insurrection.
In any case, the indictment is full of evidence that Trump was told over and over, by his own officials, that he had lost the election, and that he continued to lie about it publicly. Even if French is right, I don’t think Trump’s state of mind should pose much of an obstacle.
• Did Rudy Giuliani, a.k.a. Co-Conspirator 1, sing like a canary or what?
• We need to understand what we’re living through. The president of the United States staged a violent insurrection with the aim of staging a coup in order to remain in office, and, if the polls are to be believed, about 43% of voters would still like to return him to that office. Tuesday was an important day for accountability, but this country remains on the brink of falling into right-wing authoritarianism. None of us know whether we’re going to get through this or not. God help us all.
*Correction: It only felt like eight.