While it was “a very sad day” for former President Donald Trump, another GOP presidential candidate took full advantage of the week’s events and the spotlight.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is a central figure in the latest indictment against Trump, who appeared in Washington, D.C. Thursday to plead not guilty to charges accusing him of conspiring to steal the 2020 election. This is the third and potentially most serious indictment for Trump so far.
Pence’s campaign for 2024 has been mired in single-digit polling numbers since announcing his bid in June, trailing far behind Trump and others. He has also yet to make the stage for the first debate between GOP presidential candidates, which will be held in Milwaukee later this month. Pence is still short of the 40,000 unique donors required by the Republican National Committee.
But attention on the former vice president rose this week, as Pence took on his old boss and the 2024 GOP frontrunner in his most forceful way yet.
A “gaggle of crackpot lawyers”
Like many of his fellow Republicans on the campaign trail, Pence has walked the line between taking on Trump and not alienating the large block of voters who support the former president.
But he made his opposition clear Wednesday to a group of reporters in Indianapolis, following news of the indictment the day before. Pence said he stood by the Constitution on Jan. 6, 2021 and had no right to overturn the 2020 presidential election, despite Trump’s “reckless assertion” that the former vice president could accept or reject results during the certification process that day.
“What the president maintained that day, and frankly, has said over and over again over the last two and a half years, is completely false,” Pence said. “And it’s contrary to what our Constitution and the laws of this country provide.”.
But Pence aimed some of his harshest criticism at Trump’s legal team.
“Sadly, the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers who kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear,” he said.
Pence also took to X, formerly Twitter, to reiterate condemnation of Trump and “his gaggle of crackpot lawyers” for asking him to reject electoral votes on January 6, 2021.
“To keep faith with the oath that I made to the American people and to Almighty God, I did my duty that day,” Pence wrote.
The value of his notes, possible cooperation
Pence was a recurring mention in the Justice Department’s 45-page indictment, including references to notes he took at the time during meetings with Trump and co-conspirators.
These “contemporaneous notes” could play a key role in the trial, as could Pence depending on his level of cooperation, legal experts have told USA TODAY.
Pence’s campaign capitalizes on the news
The Pence campaign found a way to profit, literally, from all the fresh attention. Hats and T-shirts with the label “Too Honest” appeared on his campaign site Thursday, a reference to an instance described in the indictment.
In a January 2021 phone call between the pair, Trump “berated” Pence for saying there was no constitutional basis for the vice president to reject electoral votes during the certification of results, according to the indictment.
“You’re too honest,” Trump told Pence, according to the indictment.