Among the many lingering images from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was seeing then-Vice President Mike Pence flee with his security detail as a group of rabid Donald Trump supporters appeared to hunt him. The “Hang Mike Pence” chants during the insurrectionist riot can’t be unheard.
What we didn’t know, however, was that members of the Indiana Republican’s team feared that Trump had put his own vice president in so much jeopardy that a scenario like this could unfold. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, sharing an anecdote from her upcoming book, published a report today that read in part:
The day before a mob of President Donald J. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff called Mr. Pence’s lead Secret Service agent to his West Wing office. The chief of staff, Marc Short, had a message for the agent, Tim Giebels: The president was going to turn publicly against the vice president, and there could be a security risk to Mr. Pence because of it.
This was not a situation in which Pence’s chief of staff routinely flagged security concerns for the then-vice president’s detail. In fact, the Times’ report, which hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that it happened exactly once: Jan. 5, 2021. The article added:
Mr. Short did not know what form such a security risk might take, according to people familiar with the events. But after days of intensifying pressure from Mr. Trump on Mr. Pence to take the extraordinary step of intervening in the certification of the Electoral College count to forestall Mr. Trump’s defeat, Mr. Short seemed to have good reason for concern. The vice president’s refusal to go along was exploding into an open and bitter breach between the two men at a time when the president was stoking the fury of his supporters who were streaming into Washington.
We all know, of course, what happened, but reading a report like this brings the details into focus: The sitting vice president’s right-hand man had a private conversation with the Secret Service about a possible security threat — created by the sitting president.
Or put another way, Short feared that Trump had personally put Pence in danger, which proved prophetic a day later.
History offers examples of presidents and vice presidents who didn’t necessarily get along, but there’s no parallel for anything like this in the American tradition.
All of this, of course, came against a backdrop in which Trump and many of his allies desperately tried to persuade Pence to participate in a coup scheme. The then-vice president, we later learned, was prepared to ignore his legal obligations, and he actively explored ways to corrupt the process, but Pence couldn’t figure out how to make the scheme work.
Today’s reporting also dovetails with related revelations that have come to the fore recently. Indeed, it was just last week when multiple news outlets reported that, as “Hang Mike Pence” chants echoed on Capitol Hill, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told aides that Trump complained about Pence being whisked to safety. A New York Times report added, “Mr. Meadows, according to an account provided to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, then told the colleagues that Mr. Trump had said something to the effect of, maybe Mr. Pence should be hanged.”
As we discussed soon after, all of this was stunning, but not altogether surprising. Trump, during the riot, published an anti-Pence tweet, effectively accusing him of treachery, and by all accounts, Trump made no effort to reach out to his then-vice president after the riot to check on his wellbeing.
Months later, the former president sat down with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who initially asked whether he was concerned at all about Pence’s safety during the assault on the Capitol. “No, I thought he was well-protected, and I had heard that he was in good shape,” Trump replied. “No. Because I had heard he was in very good shape. But, but, no, I think — “
The reporter intervened, reminding the Republican, “Because you heard those chants — that was terrible.” Trump was unmoved, saying, “He could have — well, the people were very angry.”
Karl added, “They were saying, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’” Trump responded, “Because it’s common sense, Jon.”
All of these revelations remain important for reasons that go beyond completing the historical record. Violent insurrectionists attacked our seat of government. Some hunted the sitting vice president, who had to flee for his own safety. Trump apparently didn’t much care because Pence grudgingly concluded he couldn’t help the sitting president steal an election.
This is the stuff of nightmares in a free and stable democracy.
We know quite a bit about what transpired during this attack, but no one should assume all the important revelations have been exposed.