WASHINGTON – He started the day with a prayer.
Vice president Mike Pence, preparing to withstand the final stage of a relentless campaign by president Donald Trump to force him to illegally try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, began January 6, 2021, surrounded by aides at his official residence at the Naval Observatory, asking God for guidance.
The group was expecting a difficult day. But what followed over the next 12 hours was more harrowing than they imagined.
An angry mob with baseball bats and pepper spray chanting “hang Mike Pence” came within 40 feet of the vice president. Pence’s Secret Service detail had to hustle him to safety and hold him for nearly five hours in the bowels of the Capitol. Trump called Pence a “wimp” and worse in a coarse and abusive call that morning from the Oval Office, Trump’s daughter and former White House aides testified.
And a confidential witness who traveled to Washington with the Proud Boys, the most prominent of the far-right groups that helped lead the assault on the Capitol, later told investigators the group would have killed Pence – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – if they got the chance.
Those were among the extraordinary new details that emerged during the third public hearing held Thursday by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol.
Pence’s day dawned as it often did. The vice president, whose evangelical faith was a selling point for adding him to the presidential ticket in 2016 but often a source of skepticism for Trump, was joined by three people in prayer: his chief counsel, Greg Jacob; his chief of staff, Marc Short; and his director of legislative affairs, Chris Hodgson.
Pence and the team had been subjected to a barrage of demands from Trump that the vice president refuse to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in a joint session of Congress – an unconstitutional action never before taken in the 2 1/2 centuries since the nation’s founding.
“We just asked for guidance and wisdom, knowing the day was going to be a challenging one,” Short said in videotaped testimony played by the committee.
While Pence was at the Naval Observatory, Trump was in the Oval Office with aides and family members trickling in and out, including Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Ivanka Trump. He had already sent two Twitter posts further pressuring Pence, the first at 1 a.m. The second, at 8 a.m., concluded, “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
At 11.20 a.m., Trump called Pence, who stepped away from his aides to take the call.
The group in the Oval Office could hear Trump’s side of the call but paid little attention to what seemed to start as a routine conversation. But as Trump became increasingly heated that Pence was holding firm in his refusal to give in, the call became hard to ignore.
“I remember hearing the word ‘wimp,’” Nick Luna, an aide to Trump, said in videotaped testimony. “‘Wimp’ is the word I remember.”
Ivanka Trump, the president’s older daughter and a former top White House adviser, said in her videotaped testimony that “it was a different tone than I heard him take with the vice president before.”
Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff, Julie Radford, appeared in videotaped testimony to say that Ivanka Trump told her shortly after the call that Donald Trump had an “upsetting” conversation with Pence. The president, Radford said, used “the P word.” (The New York Times reported previously that Trump had told Pence, “You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can go down in history as a pussy,” according to two people briefed on the conversation.)
Over at the Naval Observatory, Pence returned to the room after taking the call looking “steely,” “determined” and “grim,” Jacob told the committee.
Trump in the meantime revised a speech that he delivered later that day to throngs of supporters on the Ellipse. An early draft of the speech, the committee said, included no mention of Pence. But after the call, the president included language that video footage showed riled up the mob.
“I hope Mike is going to do the right thing,” Trump said in his speech. “I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win.”
“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,” Trump continued, referring to one of his demands that Pence send the election results back to the states, a delaying tactic that he hoped would ultimately keep him in office. If Pence failed to comply, Trump told the crowd, “that will be a sad day for our country.’’
He added, “So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do. And I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to,” using the term for “Republicans in name only.”
Trump directed his supporters to march to the Capitol and make themselves heard.
By the time Pence arrived at the Capitol with his wife, Karen Pence, and their daughter Charlotte, an angry mob was already massing outside.
Inside, as the joint session began, Mike Pence’s aides released a memo to the public laying out the vice president’s view that he did not have the power over the certification that Trump and his lawyer, John Eastman, insisted he did.
Shortly after 2.10 p.m., the proceedings were interrupted by loud noises. The mob was swarming into the building. At 2.24 p.m. – when Democrats on the committee said Trump was aware that the Capitol had been breached – the president posted to Twitter that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary.”
At that point, the Secret Service had moved Pence from the Senate chamber to his office across the hall. His advisers said the noise from the rioters had become audible, leading them to assume they had entered the building. Yet there was not yet a pervasive sense of alarm.
Once in his office, Pence sat with his family, including his brother, Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., and top aides as Short ducked downstairs to grab some food. Karen Pence drew the curtains to keep the rioters from looking in.
Short made his way back to the office. By then, Tim Giebels, the lead Secret Service agent for Mike Pence, had made a few attempts to nudge Pence and his family to move to a different location. But soon he was no longer making a suggestion. Pence, he said, had to get to safety.
The entourage began to make its way down a stairway toward an underground loading dock – the point at which they came within 40 feet of the rioters. Pence and his aides did not know at the time just how close they were to the mob, some of whom were threatening to kill him.
“I could hear the din of the rioters in the building,” Jacob said Thursday at the hearing. “I don’t think I was aware they were as close as that.”
From the loading dock, Pence handled calls to congressional leaders who had been evacuated from the Capitol complex and ordered the Pentagon to send in the National Guard. The Secret Service directed him to get into a car and evacuate, but he refused to leave the building.
“The vice president did not want to take any chance that the world would see the vice president of the United States fleeing the United States Capitol,” Jacob said Thursday, noting that Pence did not want to give the rioters the satisfaction of disrupting the proceedings more than they had already done. “He was determined that we would complete the work that we had set out to do that day.”
One person he never spoke with again that day was Trump, who did not call to check on Pence’s safety. Neither did the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Just after 8 p.m., the Senate chamber opened again, after the rioters had been cleared from the complex.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” Pence said as the proceedings began again. He was greeted with applause when he said, “Let’s get back to work.”
Back at the White House, egged on by some of his advisers, Trump told aides he wanted to bar Short from entering the West Wing from then on.
At 3.42 in the morning, it was all over. Biden’s victory had been certified.
At 3.50 a.m., as Pence and Short went their separate ways, Short texted his boss a passage from the Bible.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” the message read.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.