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On Jan. 6, Pence makes weak case for letting Trump off the hook

As Mike Pence really ought to know, the rule of law doesn’t come with an asterisk that says politically contentious crimes must go unpunished.


When it comes to the events surrounding Jan. 6, Mike Pence has a unique perspective. Not only did the former vice president face direct pressure from Donald Trump to circumvent the law after their election defeat, but the former president also put Pence’s life in jeopardy during the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol.

When the Republican Hoosier was evacuated from his ceremonial office and directed to a secure location on Jan. 6, investigators ultimately learned that, at one point, Pence and the mob were only separated by 40 feet. A Proud Boys informant told the FBI that members of the right-wing group attacking the Capitol “would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.”

It’s the sort of thing that might lead a reasonable person to hold a grudge.

And yet, Pence, even now, is sticking to a familiar script. The New York Times reported:

Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday that he hoped the Department of Justice would not bring charges against Donald J. Trump, calling the former president ’s conduct “reckless” but not criminal. ... Speaking to Fox News on Monday morning, ahead of criminal referrals announced by the House committee investigating the attack, Mr. Pence downplayed Mr. Trump’s actions.

“I don’t know that it’s criminal to take bad advice from lawyers,” Pence said on the air.

As part of the same interview, the former vice president went on to draw some kind of clumsy connection between a possible Trump indictment and, believe it or not, Christmas.

“I think [criminal charges against the former president] would be terribly divisive in the country at a time when the American people want to see us heal,” Pence said. “At this time of year, we’re all thinking about the most important things in our lives: our faith, our family. And my hope is, the Justice Department think very carefully before proceeding.”

Part of the problem with Pence’s pitch is that blaming “bad advice from lawyers” is a weak excuse for Trump’s allegedly criminal misconduct. As we discussed the last time the former vice president pushed this line, it wasn’t attorneys who told Trump to deploy radicals to attack the U.S. Capitol. No lawyer encouraged Trump to press officials in Georgia to “find” votes that would show him winning. There were no attorneys whispering in Trump’s ear, telling him to put Pence’s life in danger.

But just as notable is the idea that legal accountability for suspected crimes would be “terribly divisive.” Whether Pence appreciates this or not, the rule of law in the United States doesn’t come with an asterisk that says politically contentious crimes must go unpunished.

Part of me assumes that the Indiana Republican knows all of this, but he can’t be candid about his support for our system of government because it would cost him GOP support ahead of a likely presidential campaign. Unfortunately, that likely motivation makes all of this worse.