Some have asked questions about exactly: Why Pence rejected that. The obvious answer is that he was there to fulfill his constitutional duty and to show strength — not to let the rioters flush him out and hijack the process he would oversee in Congress that day. Top Pence aide Marc Short explained that “he didn’t want our adversaries around the world to see a motorcade of 15 cars fleeing the Capitol.”
But some are not satisfied with that explanation. And now they have a member of Congress bringing the matter publicly: Jan. 6, Commissioner Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.).
The designation is that Pence was concerned about what would happen if Congress counted the electoral votes when he wasn’t there — or even that he thought certain people wanted to remove him for reasons other than his personal safety. After all, Pence would deal the final blow to President Donald Trump’s hopes of undoing the election, and everyone knew it.
Raskin has now suggested that there could indeed be more going on here.
During a speech at Georgetown University last week, Raskin promised that the House committee investigating Jan. 6 would “blow the roof off.” And as he made those comments, he rekindled the Pence questions. He called Pence’s comments about not getting in the car”the six most chilling words of this whole thing I’ve seen so far†
“He knew exactly what this inside coup that they had planned was going to do,” Raskin said, adding, “It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against Congress.”
Raskin chewed on the matter again Monday night in a long segment on MSNBC. He said he found the words horrifying”because they tried to get him out of the situation†
The meaning of Raskin is not entirely clear; he certainly knows certain things that we don’t. We know from Leonnig and Rucker’s coverage that Pence and his aides viewed the Secret Service with some suspicion as to whether they might chase him away against his will. They were also suspicious of the intentions of a senior Secret Service leader who was also a political aide to Trump.
But Raskin’s comments, combined with some new revelations via testimony from a White House employee, have sparked another round of theorizing.
So let’s evaluate what we know.
This mindset doesn’t come out of nowhere. Leonnig and Rucker reported that Pence was voicing some sort of suspicion in real time. When asked to board an armored limousine in a secure area under the Capitol by Tim Giebels, the senior officer in charge of his protective detail, Pence said he wasn’t confident that others involved wouldn’t take him.
“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Pence said. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you’ll take off. I’m not getting in the car.”
Pence wasn’t the only one who felt the need to insist that he not be removed. So was Pence’s national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, even when an agent reportedly told him that was indeed the plan.
From an excerpt from The Post from Leonnig and Rucker’s book:
Around this time, Kellogg ran into Tony Ornato in the West Wing. Ornato, who oversaw Secret Service movements, told him that Pence’s detail planned to move the vice president to Joint Base Andrews.
“You can’t do that, Tony,” Kellogg said. ‘Leave him where he is. He has a job to do. I know you too well. You fly him to Alaska if you have the chance. Do not do it.”
Pence had made it clear to Giebels the level of his determination and Kellogg said nothing could be done about it.
“He stays there,” Kellogg said to Ornato. “If he has to wait there all night, he’s going to do it.”
Ornato denied the conversation. His role is also something that will be chewed up a lot in the future, including by the Jan. 6 committee. That’s because that day he was not only a senior Secret Service agent with oversight duties, but also a White House political adviser — an unprecedented set-up.
In recent days, we’ve also learned that Ornato briefed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about the prospect of violence shortly before January 6.
On MSNBC, host Chris Hayes bet Monday night that it “certainly sounds like it was a Trump loyalist in charge of Pence’s security movements who tried to help Donald Trump orchestrate his coup by removing the vice president from the building.”
But Raskin refused to explicitly link Ornato’s actions to any sort of political effort to remove Pence. “I can’t say because we haven’t really talked about that yet, and we’re not there yet,” Raskin said. But he added: “This was a marriage between a political coup from within at the highest levels of government, with street thugs and hooligans and neo-fascists.”
And a Secret Service spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, told The Post on Tuesday that Ornato was “absolutely not involved in any vice presidential movements or operations on Jan. 6, 2021.”
Some theories about Pence have gone well beyond the publicly available evidence, despite the highly credible and non-conspiratorial explanations available.
After Raskin’s comments and the revelation about Ornato’s warning, some pointed to something else that happened on Jan. 5: Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate president pro tempore, had then said that he presiding over the Jan. 6 Senate because he didn’t expect Pence to be there†
This caused a stir at the time – largely because some believed he had referred to the joint session that Pence would chair. Some on social media bet it showed that Pence’s removal had always been the plan, and Grassley had let it slip. But Grassley’s actual comments referred to a Senate sessionand indeed the two rooms would meet separately to consider objections to a state’s election results.
Beyond that, there are very logical and non-conspiratorial reasons why the Secret Service would have wanted to remove Pence and resist Pence.
Pence, as much as he would have liked to do what Trump wanted that day, had indicated that he would eventually take a principled (and politically difficult) stance against the plot. Moreover, the rioters — who were chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” whether he knew it or not — would have given them what they wanted.
Plus, in the past, Pence has emphasized the importance of symbolically and literally standing your ground in similar cases. Amid the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he reportedly refused to evacuate the Capitol even when Flight 93 was still in the air:
He ignored an order to evacuate and walked back to the landmark building just before 10 a.m. on Black Tuesday, Black Sept. 11.
“I couldn’t run away at that moment,” Pence thought as smoke billowed from the Pentagon. “I had to report to the service. It was like standing on the shore of Pearl Harbor.”
Basically, Pence’s top aide, has mentioned the theories about Pence and the Secret Service”conspirator and abusive†
As for the Secret Service, its main job is to protect, and removing Pence from a chaotic riot in a secured vehicle seems like the best way to do that.
At the same time, those motivations don’t exclude each other’s desire to drive Pence away for additional, political reasons—or Pence’s potential concern about it.
Removing Pence from the scene might not have mattered in the end, and Congress might not have gone ahead without him there. But whether Pence was whisked away to “Alaska” or somewhere closer, even a delay in the process would have served Trump’s goals. Trump tried to buy time for a plot that failed to materialize, partly because the states he wanted to question their own election results or submit alternative lists of candidates had not yet done so.
What’s clear is that this seems to be a focal point for Raskin and the committee, so maybe we’ll have something firmer about these questions.
As Leonnig summed up in response to Raskin’s comments Friday, “We don’t know if Pence thought this was a coup. What we know is that Pence was super suspicious and insisted on staying.”
This post has been updated.