Top Pence aides testify to grand jury in Jan. 6 investigation
By Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman
Two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence testified last week to a federal grand jury in Washington investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the highest-ranking officials of the Trump administration so far known to have cooperated with the Justice Department’s widening inquiry into the events leading up to the assault.
The appearances before the grand jury of the men — Marc Short, who was Pence’s chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, who was his counsel — were the latest indication that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the events surrounding and preceding the riot is intensifying after weeks of growing questions about the urgency the department has put on examining former President Donald Trump’s potential criminal liability.
The testimony of the two Pence aides marked the first time it has become publicly known that figures with firsthand knowledge of what took place inside the White House in the tumultuous days before the attack have cooperated with federal prosecutors.
Short and Jacob played important roles in describing to a House select committee conducting a parallel investigation of the Capitol attack how Trump, working with allies such as lawyer John Eastman, mounted a campaign to pressure Pence into disrupting the normal counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of an effort to keep Trump in office.
Short’s testimony was confirmed by two people familiar with it, as was Jacob’s.
The Justice Department has at times appeared to be lagging behind the House select committee, which has spoken to more than 1,000 witnesses, including some from inside the Trump White House. Much of that testimony has been highlighted at a series of public hearings over the past two months.
It remains unclear precisely what Short and Jacob told the grand jury or what questions prosecutors may have asked them. But both previously gave recorded and transcribed interviews to the House committee, and Jacob served as a live witness at one of the panel’s public hearings that focused on the effort to strong-arm Pence.
Short and Jacob were present in the Oval Office for a meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, at which Trump had Eastman try to persuade Pence that he could delay or block congressional certification of Trump’s Electoral College defeat.
Eastman’s plan relied on Pence being willing to accept, as he presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, that there were disputes over the validity of electors whose votes for Joe Biden had already been certified by the states — a baseless assertion that had been promoted by a number of Trump allies in the previous weeks as a last-ditch way to help keep Trump in office.
Pence ultimately rejected Trump’s pressure on him to go along. But the so-called fake electors proposal has been one of the primary lines of inquiry to have become public in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation.
Short also provided the House committee with testimony that highlighted the sense of threat that built from Trump’s efforts to derail the congressional proceedings on Jan. 6.
Short told the House committee how he had informed Pence’s lead Secret Service agent on Jan. 5, 2021, that Trump was about to publicly turn on Pence over his refusal to go along with the electors plan, potentially placing a target on his former boss’ back. On Jan. 6, some members of the mob of Trump supporters that attacked the Capitol chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” Trump reacted approvingly to the chants, effectively saying that Pence deserved it, according to testimony collected by the House committee.
Short’s testimony to the federal grand jury was reported earlier by ABC News. Jacob’s testimony was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.
Until now, the only other pro-Trump figure — aside from rioters who were at the Capitol — known to have testified in front of a federal grand jury investigating Jan. 6 was prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander. Alexander, acting on a subpoena from prosecutors, answered questions in front of the grand jury for about three hours in late June.
The effort to pressure Pence into derailing certification of the Electoral College results was the chief focus of one of the House committee’s hearings in June.
The panel provided evidence at the hearing that Trump went along with the scheme despite having been told it was illegal. At the hearing, the committee played videotaped testimony in which Jacob said Eastman had admitted in front of Trump at the Jan. 4 meeting — two days before the riot — that his plan to have Pence obstruct the electoral certification violated the Electoral Count Act.
Jacob testified to the committee that Pence knew early on that the plan was unlawful. Pence’s first reaction upon hearing of it, Jacob said, was that there was “no way” this was “justifiable.”
The pressure campaign against Pence by Trump and Eastman also played a central role in a court decision this past spring by a federal judge in California who said Trump and Eastman had most likely committed federal crimes such as obstruction of a congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.