Mike Pence’s Day-By-Day Account of Trump’s Pressure Campaign Against Him
Former Vice President Mike Pence has a lot to say in his new book, So Help Me God, about what he witnessed in the White House during the run-up to January 6th. So it’s peculiar he thinks Congress has “no right” to his testimony about those events.
Pence’s position about testifying is absurd, not least because his book contains insights he should have shared with Congress about the violent attempt to disrupt the peaceful transition of power following the 2020 election. Tucked inside what at first appears to be just another memoir from a politician with presidential ambitions is the revolting plot of a sitting president’s secret pressure campaign against his vice president. Pence’s book should not only be read as a messaging device for 2024; it should be read as evidence for the ongoing investigations into January 6th.
Pence probably doesn’t want to testify because he wants to keep his Good Republican™ credibility intact, but also because his book bares an uncomfortable truth that only worsens the closer one reads it. Most of the media coverage around the book’s launch last week centered on Pence’s future and the state of his current relationship with Trump. But, right in the book, in his own words, is a subplot of a sorry story of how Pence himself, alongside Trump, helped breathe life into the election lies that ultimately threatened his own.
How? As Pence describes, he made great efforts to publicly give the appearance he fully supported Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election, even as Trump recklessly cast unfounded aspersions on the election, election workers, and critical election infrastructure.
Pence enthusiastically cheered election challenges based on unproven claims, even as they failed spectacularly in court. Then, after the Trump campaign lost dozens of those cases, Pence pivoted. Still seeking to appease Trump and stay in favor with the MAGA base, he championed the idea that members of Congress should object to Electoral College votes based on those unproven claims, and he encouraged GOP members of Congress to do so. “We haven’t gotten our day in court,” he said at the time. “We need to get our day in Congress.”
Pence’s book is chiefly valuable as a firsthand chronological narrative of former President Trump’s pressure campaign against him. He discloses many direct conversations with Trump, providing word-for-word dialogue about how Trump pressured him to overturn the election on January 6th. Pence’s recall is so sharp that one wonders if he made secret recordings of his conversations and transcribed them.
It’s also important to remember that, while Pence and his aides deserve plenty of credit for refusing to give in to Trump’s demands on January 6th, all that Pence did—as he himself stated many times—was follow the law. That shouldn’t require courage, although, in those harrowing moments when he was whisked away from Senate chambers, it most certainly did.
Pence’s heroism doesn’t exempt him from scrutiny, though. And his narrative provides reasons to examine his broader role in the events leading up to that day.
What it comes down to is this: Pence appeased Trump and indulged his election fantasies until Trump came to believe that Pence, as vice president, had special powers to singlehandedly change the results. When Pence finally decided to state unequivocally to the public that he would not, it was too late. Trump’s mob was already in Washington, ready, willing, and prepared to attack.
Below is a timeline of those events, as laid out by Pence in his book.
November 4, 2020
The day after the 2020 election, while the outcome of the presidential race remains unclear, longtime Trump aide Corey Lewandowski asks Pence’s chief of staff if he would participate in a press conference in Philadelphia on November 5. Pence declines. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, follows up to make what Pence describes as a “personal albeit weary plea.” Pence tells Meadows that he supports legal challenges but doesn’t think it’s his place to participate in the event.
The media declares Biden the victor. Jared Kushner calls Pence and asks him if he thinks fraud had taken place in the election. Pence tells him that “‘Democrats cheat’ is virtually a proverb in Indiana, and although I was sure that some fraud had taken place, I wasn’t convinced it has cost us the election.’” In public, Pence gives a different impression. He recounts in his book that, as legal challenges advanced, “I lent my support through speeches to conservative groups where I promised that we would never stop fighting ‘until every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is thrown out!’ The ovations were deafening.”
A White House briefing, Pence writes, “quickly turned into a contentious back-and-forth between campaign lawyers and a growing group of outside attorneys led by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. . . . In the end, that day the president made the fateful decision to put Giuliani and Sidney Powell in charge of the legal strategy. . . . The seeds were being sown for a tragic day in January.”
Pence meets Trump for their weekly lunch and “I decided to tell him that if the legal challenges came up short and if he was unwilling to concede, he could simply accept the results of the election, move forward with the transition, and start a political comeback.” Pence writes that Trump seems “unmoved, even weary, at the prospect” and returns the conversation to strategy about challenging the election in various states.
Pence speaks again with Trump about election challenges: “I had been in touch with the governors of Arizona and Georgia, Doug Ducey and Brian Kemp, as both were looking into election irregularities in their states. I called simply to gather information and share it with the president.” Pence also describes “encouraging news” from Wisconsin and a favorable preliminary decision regarding the counting of mail ballots in Pennsylvania. After Pence relays the information, Trump tells him, “You’re the greatest.”
Trump tells Pence that his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, “wasn’t optimistic about the election challenges. But the campaign pressed on with them.”
Attorney General William Barr tells an Associated Press reporter that the Justice Department had found no evidence of fraud.
“During a call,” Pence writes, “the president mentioned challenging the election results in the House of Representatives for the first time.” Unfamiliar with the Electoral Count Act, Pence asks his general counsel, Greg Jacob, to brief him. Pence recalls that, after reading the memo, “I never believed that the vice president’s role was anything more than ceremonial.”
Pence travels to Augusta, Georgia, for a rally in support of the Republicans in that state’s Senate runoffs. The same day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton files his lawsuit seeking to throw out the results in swing states that Trump lost. “I thundered, ‘God bless Texas!’ to the roaring approval of a crowd.” Pence reflects that at this point “there was still genuine hope among our supporters that one of the challenges would give us a fighting chance before the Supreme Court.”
Pence’s book blurs together several dates in this month. One development that stands out: He blames the Lincoln Project for fueling the idea that he, as vice president, could play a significant role on January 6th. “By mid-December,” Pence writes, “the Internet was filled with speculation about my roles, which was accelerated by an irresponsible television commercial run by a group that called itself the Lincoln Project.” The ad in question premiered on December 8, 2020.
“To my knowledge, it was the first time anyone had implied that I might be able to change the outcome of the election, and to this day those grifters have never been held accountable for promoting that lie.” (You can judge for yourself whether that is an accurate description of the ad, which says merely that, “On January 6th, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin when he presides over the Senate vote to prove Joe Biden won.”) Trump tells Pence at a December cabinet meeting that the ad “looked bad for you.” Pence replies it was not true because “I had fully supported the legal challenges to the election and would continue to do so.”
Trump tells Pence he is “trending number two on Twitter as people began speculating whether I was going to participate in the January 6 proceedings at all. Given the widening concern of so many people about election fraud, supporters around the country were arguing that I should decline to participate altogether. The president concurred.”
“If you want to be popular, don’t do it,” Trump tells Pence. Pence characterizes the remark as a “suggestion.” Pence went on:
He then went a step further: I might convene the session and at some point walk out. “It would be the coolest thing you could do,” he said jokingly, “otherwise you’re just another RINO.” . . . We both laughed at the controversy and his crack. There was no angst between us and there was no talk of rejecting electors or returning votes to the states.
The electors meet across the country and the states certify their elections. “For all intents and purposes, at that point the election was over,” Pence writes.
Trump phones Pence to say he is planning a rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, and “he thought it would be a ‘big day’ and it would be good to have lots of our supporters in town.” Pence indicates he likes the idea. He recounts:
My first thought was that a rally might be a useful way to call even more attention to the proceedings on the floor of the house and Senate. I had spoken that day with a member of the Senate about the importance of vetting concerns about the election before Congress and the American people. Since so many of our lawsuits had been dismissed by the courts before even considering the evidence of voting irregularities, I said, “We haven’t gotten our day in court,” and “We need to get our day in Congress.” Even though the Democratic majority in the House was “unlikely to change the outcome,” I told the president, “let’s have a debate.”
Pence meets with Trump for their weekly lunch and “sensed he was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on any of the legal challenges to the election.” Pence hoped “to steer him away from outside lawyers who had taken over the election challenges in November” but did not convince Trump to trust White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s team instead.
Later that day, Pence said he “stopped by the Oval Office” where Trump previously had met with members of Congress who were preparing objections for January 6th. Pence also “decided to drop by” a meeting of a “larger group of congressman . . . huddled in the Cabinet Room for a planning session before leaving town for the holidays.” He describes their conversation:
I assured them that they would have ample opportunity to present evidence on the floor of Congress [on January 6th]. Since I would be presiding in the chair that day, I promised them that all properly submitted objections would be recognized and fully debated. I was not going to allow the Democrats to disrupt the proceedings with deleterious motions or tactics designed to prevent a full hearing of objections and evidence. I told them what I had told the president a few days earlier, that though we hadn’t gotten our day in court, I would make sure we got our day in Congress. The group expressed their genuine appreciation and gave me a round of applause as I left the room. Several members appeared on television that night and echoed my remarks in explaining their plan to bring objections on the House floor. I was flattered and honestly felt that we were all on the same page, ready to take our case to Congress and the American people.
Returning to the Oval Office, Pence has a brief exchange with Trump that concludes with Pence suggesting that “after we had exhausted every legal process in the courts and Congress, if we still came up short, he should ‘take a bow.’” Trump replies, “That’s worth considering.”
Pence speaks at a Turning Point USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the “convention center was packed, a rarity at the close of the first year of covid, and the enthusiasm was deafening.” Pence said, “Anticipating that many of those young people might be disappointed in a few weeks, I simply urged them to stay in the fight. ‘Stay in the fight for election integrity. Stay in the fight to defend all that we’ve done,’ I encouraged them.”
Trump retweets a message about “Operation Pence Card,” alluding “to the theory that if all else failed in election challenges in states across the country, there was still the ‘Pence Card,’ meaning that I could somehow alter the outcome of the election in my role as presiding officer over the counting of Electoral College votes submitted by the states on January 6.” Pence shows the tweet to his wife, Karen, and “rolled my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go.’”
Pence calls Trump to wish him a Merry Christmas. Trump tells him that he heard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressuring senators not to cosponsor objections filed by House Republicans. “I could tell that he was spoiling for a fight. I encouraged him to hold off criticizing the Senate Republicans, since we would need their support if we hoped to prevail on any of the objections in January.” Pence went on:
With that, the conversation turned to the process on January 6. “You play a big role,” he said. “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” I replied and reminded him that the House and the Senate had the sole power to count or reject state electoral votes. But it was clear from our conversation he had been hearing something different.
As we ended the call, he said with a sigh, “If we prove we won a state and Pelosi certifies anyway . . . I don’t think we can let that happen.” “You’ll figure it out,” he added.
Rep. Louie Gohmert and other Republicans file a lawsuit asking a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas “to declare that I had ‘exclusive authority and sole discretion’ to decide which electoral votes should be counted.” Pence directs his staff to request that Department of Justice lawyers represent him in the case, “which the department lawyers did without hesitation—to the consternation of the president, I would later learn.”
That same day, Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, a plaintiff in the Gohmert suit, calls Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, “to say she had heard” the Pence family was in Vail, Colorado. Ward says Sidney Powell is also in Vail and “wanted to meet for coffee.” Short questions her about the Gohmert lawsuit. Ward says, “We wouldn’t have done that without the president telling us it was okay.”
Pence writes that he “figured Sidney Powell was just trying to meet to serve me the papers in the lawsuit. I declined the meeting.” (The case was dismissed within days. Gohmert told the media his lawsuit was a friendly effort, a suggestion Pence dismisses: “At such a serious time in the life of the nation, such a frivolous lawsuit only served to raise unrealistic expectations that I could change the outcome of the election on January 6.”)
Sen. Josh Hawley announces he will cosponsor objections brought by House Republicans. Pence’s aides are in touch with members of Congress who plan to object. He writes that he “welcomed” Hawley’s announcement because “it ensured that we were going to have a substantive debate in the Congress.”
I shared the concern of millions of Americans about allegations of fraud and irregularities in the November election and thought that a full airing of all the evidence to the country was in order. Without Halwey’s support, I would have been required to dismiss each of the House objections without debate, something I really did not want to do.
January 1, 2021
Trump calls Pence that morning and wants to know why Pence’s team had filed a brief opposing Gohmert’s lawsuit. Trump tells Pence, “I don’t want to see ‘Pence Opposes Gohmert Suit’ as a headline this morning.” The problem, Pence replies, is that he does oppose it. Trump responds, “You are being savaged. . . . If it gives you the power, why would you oppose it?” Pence says he does not believe the vice president has the power to alter election results. “You’re too honest,” Trump answers, and “hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts” and “people are gonna think you’re stupid.”
Growing increasingly irate, [Trump] said, “That means we’re gonna have a president who cheated,” and asked, “You say that’s okay?” When I replied with a simple “no,” he railed about “massive fraud” and asked again, “You’re okay with that?”
Pence reiterates his position—but “I knew that would not be the end of it.”
Pence works from home on a “planned statement outlining my position on my duty on January 6.” Around 5 p.m., Trump calls Pence to discuss Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal (which Cruz laid out in a press release that day) to create a ten-day commission to review voting irregularities that would delay the certification date.
“You can make the decision” to delay the count and follow the Cruz plan, Trump tells Pence, suggesting he talk to attorney John Eastman. (Pence: “I did not know Eastman beyond that he had been the legal scholar behind” the Texas lawsuit.) Pence dispatches his legal counsel, Greg Jacob, to meet with Eastman.
[Although Pence writes in his book that events described in the following paragraph occurred “the next day”—that is, on January 3—the memo he describes is dated January 1 and the statement he describes was released on January 2.]
Pence and Jacob review “a detailed memorandum” that Jacob prepared regarding supposed election misconduct in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin. (The memo is archived here.) “Although the allegations of actual voter fraud were relatively small in number,” Pence recounts, “there was strong evidence that the state and local officials had committed numerous procedural violations that reduced transparency and favored Democrats.” That evening, Pence releases a statement saying he “welcomed the efforts” of members of Congress “to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence” on January 6th under the Electoral Count Act.
Trump, very pleased upon seeing the news coverage of Pence’s statement, phones the vice president and tells him, “You have gone from very unpopular to popular!” Trump continues: “You have the absolute right to reject electoral votes. . . .You can be a historic figure . . . but if you wimp out, you’re just another somebody.” Pence says that he will “do the right thing” and reminds Trump that “I praised the House and Senate members for bringing objections because that’s what the Constitution and the law allow.” Pence recalls he “didn’t understand why even some Republicans were criticizing members for using their authority under the law to bring objections.”
Later that day, Pence meets with the Senate parliamentarian and tells her that he had heard about alternate slates of electors transmitted by several states.
She told me there were not. . . . She told me that Congress always receives miscellaneous slates of electors every four years but that there was no alternate slate bearing what was known as a certificate of election from any competing state authority from any of the disputed states. “We should say that,” I told her. She seemed surprised. . . . But given the controversy surrounding the election, I thought we should make it clear in the record that there were no alternate electors.
Pence and the parliamentarian work to add new language to that effect to his January 6th “script.”
Pence travels to Milner, Georgia, for another rally, one day ahead of the Senate runoffs. He tells the crowd, “Come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress. We’ll hear the objections. We’ll hear the evidence, but tomorrow is Georgia’s day.” The crowd’s response, he recalls, “was thunderous.”
On the plane ride back to Washington, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, calls Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, summoning Pence to the White House for a meeting with “Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and everyone else working on the increasingly desperate legal strategy for January 6.”
At the meeting, Eastman
argued that I should modify the proceedings, which require that Electoral College votes be opened and counted in alphabetical order, by saving the five disputed states until the end. Eastman argued that I had the authority to simply direct that electoral certificates not be counted and instead order that they be returned to the states until each state legislature certified which of the competing slate[s] of electors for the state was correct.
Pence recalls this as “the first time I had ever heard anyone suggest that we send votes back to the states. The president and many of his defenders later repeatedly made the case that that was all I had ever been asked to do. It wasn’t.” But Pence doesn’t confront Eastman on that question because “I had already confirmed that there were no legitimate competing electors.”
Instead, Pence challenges Eastman directly by asking, “Do you think I have the authority to reject or return votes?” Eastman’s reply: “Well, it’s never been tested in the courts, so I think it is an open question.” Pence then turns to Trump: “Mr. President, did you hear that? . . . Even your lawyer doesn’t think I have the authority to return electoral votes.” Trump “nodded” but then said, “‘I like the other thing better,’ presumably referring to his previous opinion that I could simply choose to reject electoral votes altogether” rather than return them to the states.
After the meeting, Trump travels to Georgia for another rally, where he tells the crowd: “I hope that our great vice president comes through for us! . . . Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him so much. . . . No, the one thing you know about Mike, he always plays it straight.” Pence, watching on TV from Washington, is “touched by the evident support in the crowd, but I actually hoped it also meant that the president was coming my way.”
Pence’s top aides meet with Eastman at Trump’s request. Eastman again unsuccessfully presses the idea that the vice president can return electoral votes to state legislatures. “But soon Eastman’s theory gave way to another, the one the president had argued for all along.”
After Eastman’s failure to convince Pence’s aides, Trump requests Pence meet him in the Oval Office. Pence was unaware of it at the time, but Eastman had told Pence’s aides that the “president’s lawyers were now requesting that I simply reject the electors,” which Pence describes as a “significant change of posture” that would trigger a scenario where the election is decided by the House of Representatives, where Trump would presumably win.
Before Pence meets with Trump, Trump tweets that “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” Upon Pence’s arrival in the Oval Office, Trump talks about “the size of the crowd already forming on the Ellipse” and then—after all the staffers exit, leaving Trump and Pence alone—Trump says “I think you have the power to decertify.” Pence rejects the idea: “I don’t believe the Constitution or the law gives me that authority. . . . Those people [in the crowd outside] love you, Mr. President. . . . And those people also love the Constitution.”
At that his mood darkened. “These people cheated, and you want to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.” It was “bad for the country,” he went on “and bad for you. . . . You are naive. . . . How can you certify a fraud?” . . . With that, the president said that he guessed it probably just “takes courage,” implying that was what I lacked. I paused before replying and, facing him from my seat in front of the Resolute Desk, said firmly, “Mr. President, I have courage, and you know that.”
Trump’s reply: “Well, I’m gonna have to say you did a great disservice.” Pence gets in the last word before walking from the room: “Other than your family, no one in this administration has been more loyal to you than me.”
Trump calls Pence twice more that day, once with Eastman on the line, and later to make sure that Pence saw a letter in which a few GOP state senators from Pennsylvania asking Congress to “delay certification of the Electoral College.” “You gotta be tough tomorrow,” Trump tells Pence.
Later that night, the New York Times reports that Pence did not think he could block certification, which Pence writes “of course, was true.” To rebut the story, the Trump campaign releases a false statement. In the statement Trump says that “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” Trump’s statement goes on to say Pence “has several options under the U.S. Constitution,” including the options to decertify the results, send electoral votes back to the states “for change and certification,” or decertify “illegal and corrupt results” and thereby toss the decision to the House.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Pence writes. “The campaign had issued a statement directly contradicting what I had told the president just a few hours earlier.”
“Given the lateness of the hour”—the Trump statement was released around 10 p.m.—“there was little else I could do for the time being,” Pence writes. “I’ve always said that truth is a force of nature. I figured the American people would know the truth soon enough, so I put the whole matter in the Lord’s hands and tried to get some sleep. I had a feeling that January 6, 2021, was going to be a very long day.”
By the time Pence woke up on January 6th, the mob Trump had summoned to the capital was ready for action.
Trump phoned Pence once more before addressing his supporters in his speech on the Ellipse. Pence reminded him that “I do not believe I possess the power to decide which electoral votes to count; that resides with the election representatives of the American people.” Pence writes that Trump “laid into me” and said, “You’ll go down as a wimp” if he didn’t go through with Trump’s desired plan.
Pence writes that he usually monitored Trump’s public remarks but decided not to watch Trump’s remarks at the Ellipse. “Maybe I should’ve watched,” though because at the rally, Trump called Pence out by name: “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”
Pence said he wanted to wait until Trump was done speaking to finally release the statement he had been laboring over, in which he publicly explained the role he intended to play that day. But since Trump was late to his own speech, Pence ended up issuing his statement only minutes before the joint session of Congress gaveled in to certify the 2020 electoral votes. In the statement, Pence said it is “my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”
By the time Pence’s message was released, Trump’s mob was already marching. As rioters stormed the Capitol, they shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Find Mike Pence!”
The rest is history.