Former Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican presidential contender, said Sunday that Donald Trump’s actions leading up to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, were “reckless” but that he’s “not yet convinced” they were crimes.
“While his words were reckless, based on what I know, I am not yet convinced that they were criminal,” Pence said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump said last week that special counsel Jack Smith notified him in a letter that he is the target of an investigation by a Washington-based grand jury examining the Jan. 6 riot and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which he said effectively means he will be indicted for a third time.
The letter mentions three federal statutes related to the deprivation of rights, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and tampering with a witness, two attorneys with direct knowledge of the document have said.
“I hope it does not come to that,” Pence said, arguing that it should be left up to the American people to judge Trump’s conduct around Jan. 6.
“I don’t honestly know what his intention was that day," he added. “But for my part, from what I saw, as I’ve said, is his actions were reckless. I believe that history will hold him accountable.”
Trump recently indirectly warned Smith that it would be "very dangerous" if he were to be sent to prison. Pence said Sunday that Trump's rhetoric "doesn't worry me, because I have more confidence in the American people."
In the days leading up to the Capitol attack, Trump attacked Pence for refusing to comply with his demands that he prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election win. Then, on Jan. 6, some rioters were overheard chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
After he broke with Trump over Jan. 6, Pence has publicly excoriated Trump over his baseless claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 election.
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said at the annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner in March, which was attended by politicians and journalists. “I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day."
Pence, however, hasn’t gone after Trump directly since he announced his presidential campaign last month. He defended his strategy to a voter who confronted him at a town hall in New Hampshire last week.
“I’m not interested in trading insults with my old friend. I’m not,” Pence said. “Some people think that’s the way to win the presidency. But laying out the choice for the American people, we’ve been doing it. We’ll keep doing it.”