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How punctuation (somehow) plays a role in Trump's Jan. 6 case

A new report shows how a potentially errant comma in Mike Pence's book could impact proof of Trump's guilty mind in the election interference prosecution.


In the federal prosecution over Donald Trump’s alleged criminal attempt to thwart the 2020 election, it might seem like the placement of a comma wouldn’t make much of a difference. But a new report sheds light on, among other things, how the punctuation in a book Mike Pence published last year matters to special counsel Jack Smith in the Washington case.

ABC News reported Tuesday: 

Sources said that investigators’ questioning became so granular at times that they pressed Pence over the placement of a comma in his book: When recounting a phone call with Trump on Christmas Day 2020, Pence wrote in his book that he told Trump, “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome” of the election on Jan. 6.

The report, which hasn't been confirmed by NBC News or MSNBC, continued:

But Pence allegedly told Smith’s investigators that the comma should have never been placed there. According to sources, Pence told Smith’s investigators that he actually meant to write in his book that he admonished Trump, “You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” suggesting Trump was well aware of the limitations of Pence’s authority days before Jan. 6 — a line Smith includes in his indictment.

Lo and behold, the indictment contains the comma-less line in Smith’s first example of private phone calls in which Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, “repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud and directly pressured the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the certification proceeding on January 6 to fraudulently overturn the results of the election, and the Vice President resisted.”

The indictment recounts the call in which Trump “quickly turned the conversation to January 6 and his request that the Vice President reject electoral votes that day. The Vice President pushed back, telling the Defendant, as the Vice President already had in previous conversations, ‘You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome.’”

A spokesman for Pence declined NBC News’ request for comment on the ABC News report.

Of course, if Pence testifies, he can address any lingering grammatical debate himself — and be cross-examined on his testimony in the case that’s scheduled for trial in March. By then, punctuation may be the least of Trump’s concerns. 

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