Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared Thursday before a grand jury hearing evidence about former President Donald J. Trump to cling to power after he loses the 2020 election, a person briefed on the matter said, testifying in a criminal investigation that could affect the legal and political fate of his former boss and possible 2024 challenger.
Mr. Pence spent more than five hours behind closed doors in Federal District Court in Washington after being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury earlier this year.
As the goal of an intense pressure campaign in the final days of 2020 and early 2021 by Mr. Trump to persuade him to play a decisive role in blocking or delaying the certification of victory for Joseph R. Biden- Jr. of Congress, Mr. Pence is considered a key witness in the investigation.
Mr. Pence, who is expected to decide soon whether to challenge Mr. Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, rejected Mr. Trump’s demands that he use his role as Senate president to certify the Electoral College results , to thwart the final step in asserting Mr. Biden’s victory.
Advisers to Mr. Pence had discussions with Justice Department officials last year about providing testimony in their criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump and a number of his allies broke federal law in trying to keep Mr. Trump in power. But the talks broke down, prompting prosecutors to seek a subpoena for Mr Pence’s testimony.
Both Mr Pence and Mr Trump tried to resist the subpoena, with the former vice president arguing it violated the constitution’s “speech or debate” clause given his role in overseeing the certification of the results of the January 6, 2021, election. d., and mr. Trump has argued that their discussions are covered by executive privilege.
Mr. Trump’s efforts to prevent testimony based on claims of executive privilege have been rejected by the courts. Mr. Pence partially won in his efforts to prevent or limit his testimony; the chief judge overseeing the grand jury ruled that he would not have to discuss matters related to his role as Senate president on Jan. 6, but that he would have to testify about any potential wrongdoing by Mr. Trump.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday night rejected Mr Trump’s emergency attempt to halt Mr Pence’s testimony, allowing testimony to continue on Thursday.
Mr. Trump’s efforts to hang on to the presidency after his election defeat — and how it led to the attack on the Capitol — is the focus of one of two federal criminal investigations overseen by Jack Smith, a special prosecutor appointed by the attorney general. Merrick B. Garland. Mr. Smith also led the parallel investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.
Mr Smith has gathered evidence of a wide range of activities by Mr Trump and his allies after Election Day 2020. These include a plan to compile a list of alternative voters from a number of swing states that could be offered by Mr. Trump as he challenged the Electoral College results. They also include examining whether Mr. Trump defrauded donors by soliciting donations to fight election fraud, despite repeatedly being told there was no evidence the election was stolen from him.
A district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, Fannie T. Willis, is also gathering evidence on whether Mr. Trump was involved in a plot to overturn the election results in that state and has signaled that she will announce all charges this summer.
Mr. Pence’s unwillingness to go along with Mr. Trump’s plan to block or delay the certification of the election result infuriated Mr. Trump, who attacked his vice president personally and publicly on Jan. 6.
Mr Pence was subsequently targeted by the pro-Trump crowd that flooded the Capitol building that day, with some chanting “Down with Mike Pence!” as they marched through the complex. Someone brought a fake gallows that stood outside the building.
It’s unclear what testimony Pence gave Thursday. But prosecutors were certainly interested in Mr. Pence’s accounts of his interactions with Mr. Trump and Trump advisers, including John Eastman, a lawyer who promoted the idea that they could use the certification process in Congress on Jan. 6. to give Mr. Trump a chance to stay in office.
That plan relied on Mr. Pence using his role as Senate president to hold up the process. But Mr. Pence’s top lawyer and outside advisers concluded that the vice president lacked the legal authority to do so.
Mr. Pence described some of his conversations with Mr. Trump in his memoir, “So Help Me, God.”
Mr. Pence described in the book how Mr. Trump worked with Mr. Eastman to pressure him to do something the vice president was adamant he could not and would not do. He wrote that on the morning of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump tried to hit him again during a phone call.
“You’re going to stay weak,” the president told the vice president. “If you do, I made a big mistake five years ago!”
Some of Mr. Pence’s aides have already appeared before a grand jury, in addition to giving extensive testimony last year to a special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot and what led up to it.