(The Hill) — Then-Vice President Mike Pence was getting on the phone with then-President Donald Trump the evening of Dec. 13, 2020, just as chatter was exploding on the internet that he could delay or block the certification of Trump’s electoral loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
In his new memoir, “So Help Me God,” Pence wrote about how Trump told him during that call that he should decline to participate in Congress’s certification of that vote if he wanted to be “popular.”
“He told me I was trending number two on Twitter as people began speculating whether I was going to participate in the January 6 proceedings at all,” Pence wrote. The Hill obtained an advance copy of the memoir.
“Given the widening concern of so many people about election fraud, supporters around the country were arguing that I should decline to participate altogether. The president concurred,” Pence wrote.
“‘If you want to be popular, don’t do it,’ he suggested,” Pence’s memoir stated.
“He then went a step further: I might convene the session and then at some point walk out. ‘It would be the coolest thing you could do,’ he said jokingly, ‘otherwise you’re just another RINO’… We both laughed at the controversy and his crack,” Pence continued. “At that point, there was no angst between us and there was no talk of rejecting electors or returning votes to the states.”
But the friction grew in the following days and weeks, Pence wrote in his book, which is set to be released Tuesday.
For much of the book, Pence wrote extensively about the Trump administration’s policy achievements, its controversies, and his role as an “active” and loyal sidekick to Trump.
But in the book’s final chapters, which revolve around the aftermath of the 2020 election, Pence described weeks of persistent pressure from Trump and his allies who insisted he had the authority to intervene in the electoral certification on Jan. 6, 2021.
Shortly after the election, Pence grew concerned that Trump was relying on the legal counsel of Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell and not his White House and campaign lawyers such as Pat Cipollone, Matt Morgan and Justin Clark. But it was Dec. 5, 2020, when Trump first raised the possibility of challenging the election results in the House, Pence said.
From there, Pence detailed numerous instances of Trump pushing him to delay the Jan. 6 certification, to return electors to the states or to boycott the proceedings altogether.
On Dec. 21, Pence said he advised Trump that once they had exhausted their legal options and the vote was certified, Trump should go on a “thank-you tour” to speak to supporters and then run again in 2024.
On Christmas Day of 2020, Pence said he called Trump as he had in previous years, but the conversation quickly turned to talk of the election.
“As we ended the call, he said with a sigh, ‘If we prove we won a state and [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] certifies anyway… I don’t think we can let that happen.’”
“‘You’ll figure it out,’ he added,” Pence wrote.
Pence spoke again with Trump on New Year’s Day of 2021, when the president “came on strong” about why Pence had opposed a lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that sought to establish the vice president had the power to reject electoral votes.
After Pence explained that he did not believe the argument in the lawsuit was consistent with the Constitution, Trump told him, “You’re too honest” and predicted that “hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts.”
On Jan. 2, Trump referred Pence to attorney John Eastman for the first time, Pence said. In the process, Trump suggested to Pence that he could delay the certification of the Electoral College votes by 10 days.
The next day, Pence wrote, Trump called him in the morning and said, “You have the absolute right to reject electoral votes.”
“‘You can be a historical figure,’ he said, his tone growing more confrontational, ‘but if you wimp out, you’re just another somebody,’” Pence wrote of the conversation, adding that he told Trump he was going to do the right thing and follow the Constitution.
After holding a rally for Georgia Senate candidates on Jan. 4, Pence attended an Oval Office meeting with Trump, Giuliani, Eastman and others. Pence said he pressed Eastman on his legal theories and argued to Trump that even Eastman was not certain that the vice president had the authority to return electoral votes to the states.
That night, Trump held a rally in Georgia, where he said, “I hope that our great vice president comes through for us! Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him so much. No, the one thing you know about Mike, he always plays it straight.”
On Jan. 5, Trump made multiple appeals to Pence about preventing the certification of Biden’s victory. Trump sent a tweet that day saying Pence had the power “to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
In an Oval Office conversation that day, Trump told Pence he had the power to “decertify,” which Pence pushed back on. At that point, Pence wrote, Trump called his vice president “naive” and suggested Pence lacked the courage needed to reject the votes. Pence responded that he had courage and Trump knew it.
“Hearing that, he relented and said with more than a little sadness, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to say you did a great disservice,’” Pence wrote.
“With that I stood up, buttoned my jacket, and said, ‘Mr. President, you need to say what you need to say, but you know, other than your family, no one in this administration has been more loyal to you than me,’” Pence continued.
Trump called Pence twice more before the end of the day on Jan. 5 and in the evening issued a statement claiming Trump and Pence were in “total agreement” that the vice president had the authority to decertify the election results, Pence wrote, contradicting their earlier conversations.
Pence and Trump had one final phone call on the morning of Jan. 6 after Pence had issued a statement outlining why he would not intervene in the certification process. On that call, Pence wrote, Trump “laid into me.”
“‘You’ll go down as a wimp,’ he predicted, adding ‘If you do that, I made a big mistake five years ago!’” Pence wrote.
Pence went on to describe the events of Jan. 6, describing how rioters breached the Capitol and he was hurried off the Senate floor. He recounted how he refused to leave the Capitol grounds and instead coordinated with congressional leaders from a loading dock under the Capitol as a mob ran through the building, some chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
The former vice president and Trump did not speak for several days after the events of Jan. 6, though the two eventually met in the Oval Office, where Pence told Trump he was angry about the day’s events and said he’d be praying for the president.
Ultimately, Pence wrote, it was Trump’s ongoing fixation on the 2020 election and his outrage at those who stood in the way of his attempts to cling to power that led to a complete break in communication between the two men.
“Since leaving office, people have often asked me about my relationship with President Trump. I tell them I will always be grateful that he chose me to be his vice president,” Pence wrote. “He was my president and he was my friend. For four years, we had a close working relationship. It did not end well.
“But as you have read on these pages, we parted amicably when our service to the nation drew to a close,” Pence continued. “In the months that followed, we spoke from time to time, but when the president returned to the rhetoric that he was using before that tragic day and began to publicly criticize those of us who defended the Constitution, I decided it would be best to go our separate ways.”