President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing of the coronavirus task force at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump is now blaming former Vice President Mike Pence for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—arguing that if Pence had just gone along with his plot to overturn their election loss, the pro-Trump mob would never have attacked the Capitol.“Had he sent the votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6, so in many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6,” Trump told reporters while flying to Iowa on Monday evening. “Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, number one, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn’t have had ‘Jan. 6’ as we call it.”
At least this time, Trump seemed to accept that there was an actual riot that day. In his previous remarks, he falsely blamed “Antifa” for causing the riot, and insisted that the storming of the Capitol was largely peaceful. Rioters attacked the Capitol after the former president incited them with a furious speech in which he demanded that Pence and Congress block his election loss. The plot amounted to a coup attempt with incredibly thin legal justification, based on a half-baked theory, and led to hundreds of police injuries and put the lives of everyone in the Capitol building at risk—including Pence.Trump’s comments came after Pence called him out during a speech to the Gridiron Dinner, a white-tie media event held on Saturday night.“His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day,” Pence said.Pence and Trump are both gearing up for presidential runs. Pence’s Saturday speech was clearly designed to make news and tweak Trump, and Trump made his remarks as he headed out for his first visit to early-voting Iowa since he launched his presidential campaign.Trump’s entire legal plot, which was based on a bizarre reading of the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, argued that Pence had the right to reject states’ election results, provided Congress went along with it and sent the results back to the states in question. That theory was flimsy at best—and completely impossible when the states didn’t actually put forth valid competing elector slates. Trump’s team put up fake slates of “alternate electors” instead, but those weren’t actually approved by the GOP state legislatures, making them legally useless.
Experts agree that the Electoral Count Act of 1872 was poorly worded, and Congress passed legislation last year clarifying the language with an aim of avoiding a repeat of Trump’s attempted coup. Trump claimed that move vindicated his strategy—and that Pence should have gone along with it—while mangling the name of the law he was trying to cite.“He had the right to send them back, otherwise they wouldn’t have changed the Voting Act,” Trump told reporters on the plane. “They all said, ‘He didn’t have any rights at all, he was a human conveyor belt, he had no rights even if it was fraud.’ And then the day after he did it, they said, ‘Now we’re going to change it so he doesn’t do it.’ Meaning, you understand that, meaning he had the right to do it.”Most legal experts agree that the approach Trump’s team took to that law was wrong. But even if the fringe reading of the law had that Trump’s team adopted had been right, they still would have had no option for Pence to reject states’ results on Jan. 6, 2021, because Trump’s team hadn’t actually managed to get state legislatures to certify alternate elector slates for him.That’s what Pence’s lawyers told him, why he refused to go along with Trump’s coup attempt—and why pro-Trump rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.