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US Capitol panel highlights pressure on Pence

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Former US president Donald Trump pressured his vice-president, Mike Pence, to overturn his 2020 election defeat despite being told repeatedly it was illegal to do so, aides to Mr Pence have alleged.

Members of the Democratic-led congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol said Mr Trump continued his pressure campaign, even though he knew a violent mob of his supporters was threatening the Capitol as Mr Pence and lawmakers met to formally certify President Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election.

The committee has used the first three of at least six public hearings to build a case that Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat amounted to illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.

Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing, while repeating his false accusations that he lost the election only because of widespread fraud that benefited Democrat Biden. Mr Trump and his supporters – including many Republican members of Congress – dismiss the January 6 panel as a political witch hunt.

The certification vote on January 6 had become a focus for Mr Trump, who saw it as a last-ditch chance to retain the presidency despite his loss at the polls.

Marc Short, who was Mr Pence’s chief of staff, said in videotaped testimony that Mr Pence told Mr Trump “many times” that he did not have the authority to stop the vote certification in Congress as the Republican president sought.

Gregory Jacob, a lawyer for Mr Pence, said the main proponent of that theory, lawyer John Eastman, admitted in front of Mr Trump two days before the attack that his plan to have Mr Pence halt the procedure would violate the law.

Dr Eastman had argued Mr Pence could reject results from certain states if he thought they were illegitimate, giving Republicans in those states an opportunity to declare Mr Trump the victor, despite the actual vote count.

Advisers to Mr Pence told the committee that idea had no basis in law.

“It is breathtaking that these arguments even were conceived, let alone entertained by the president of the United States,” former US Appeals Court judge J Michael Luttig, an informal Pence adviser, said.

Mr Trump is widely expected to run for president again in 2024, and committee members and witnesses warned he would not accept defeat no matter the outcome.

“Today, almost two years after that fateful day in January 2021, that still, Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy,” Mr Luttig said.

The committee showed an email Dr Eastman sent to Mr Trump’s lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, asking for a presidential pardon. Dr Eastman never received one.

The hearing featured chilling clips of some of the thousands of Trump supporters who descended on the Capitol after a rally in which Mr Trump repeatedly criticised Mr Pence. The mob was chanting for Mr Pence to be pulled out of the building or hanged.

Mr Trump tweeted while the attack was going on that Mr Pence did not have the “courage” to stop the count.

“It felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire by tweeting that,” Sarah Matthews, a Trump White House staffer, said in video testimony.

Representative Pete Aguilar said a witness had told the FBI that the Proud Boys, one of the right-wing groups involved in the Capitol attack, said the group would have killed Mr Pence if they been able to get to him.

The Capitol insurrection delayed certification of the election for hours, injured more than 140 police officers and led to several deaths.

Even after police had suppressed the attack and reclaimed the Capitol, Dr Eastman continued to press Mr Pence’s team to overturn the vote, the committee said.

-AAP