By David Klepper
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s defense attorney says the former president never asked Mike Pence to overturn the will of the voters in the 2020 election, but only wanted the former vice president to “pause” the certification of votes to allow states to investigate his claims of election fraud. Those baseless claims had already been rejected by numerous courts.
Speaking on several Sunday morning news shows, Trump attorney John Lauro said Trump was within his First Amendment rights when he petitioned Pence to delay the certification on Jan. 6, 2021.
“The ultimate ask of Vice President Pence was to pause the counts and allow the states to weigh in,” Lauro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He added that Trump was convinced there were irregularities in the election that needed to be investigated by state authorities before the election could be certified.
Pence, who like Trump is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, flatly rejected that account during an interview Sunday, saying Trump seemed “convinced” as early as December that Pence had the right to reject or return votes and that on Jan. 5, Trump’s attorneys told him “’We want you to reject votes outright.”
Pence’s role in certifying Joe Biden’s win over Trump in the 2020 election makes him a central figure in the prosecution against Trump on charges that he sought to overturn the will of the voters and remain in office even after the courts had roundly rejected his claims of electoral fraud. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general also had said there were was no credible evidence the election was tainted.
Last week’s indictment chronicles how Trump and his allies, in what special counsel Jack Smith described as an attack on a “bedrock function of the U.S. government,” repeatedly lied about the results in the two months after he lost the election and pressured Pence and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power. Those efforts culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification.
Trump pleaded not guilty to those charges. Separately, he also faces charges that he falsified business records relating to hush money payments to a porn actor in New York and improperly kept classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort and obstructed an investigation into their handling.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Lauro said Pence’s testimony will show Trump believed the election was rigged and that he was listening to the advice of his attorneys when he sought to delay the certification. Pence, who appeared before the grand jury that indicted Trump, said he will comply with the law if asked to testify.
“I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to cross examine Mr. Pence,” Lauro said. “He will completely eliminate any doubt that President Trump firmly believed that the election irregularities had led to an inappropriate result.”
The 45-page indictment details how people close to Trump repeatedly told him he had lost and that there was no truth to his claims of fraud. In one encounter days before the riot, Trump told Pence he was “too honest” after the vice president said he didn’t have the authority to reject electoral votes, the indictment says.
Former allies of Trump have said Trump knew he lost but spread false claims about fraud anyway. After he failed to convince state officials to illegally swing the election, Trump and his allies recruited fake electors in swing states to sign certificates falsely stating Trump had prevailed.
“He knew well that he had lost the election,” Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr said in an interview last week.
Lauro said Trump’s defense team will seek to move the case from Washington because it wants a more diverse jury. He said he would support televising the trial, and dismissed speculation that it could wrap up before the 2024 election.
“In 40 years of practicing law, on a case of this magnitude, I’ve not known a single case to go to trial before two to three years,” Lauro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Responding to questions about whether Trump can get a fair trial in the nation’s capitol, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he can.
“Yes, I believe jurors can be fair. I believe in the American people,” Christie said Sunday on CNN.
A slew of people charged in the Jan. 6 riot have tried to get their trials moved out of Washington. Yet judges have rejected those motions in every case, saying fair jurors can be found with proper questioning.
Trump’s legal team has until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the prosecution’s request for a protective order limiting Trump’s ability to publicly disclose information about the case. The decision is up to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Protective orders are common in criminal cases, but prosecutors said it’s “particularly important in this case” because Trump has posted on social media about “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others associated with legal matters pending against him.”
Prosecutors pointed specifically to a post on Trump’s Truth Social platform from Friday in which Trump wrote, in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”