Jan. 6 committee seizes on Trump's "admission": He wanted Pence to “overturn” election

After Trump's remarkable "overturn" statement, Liz Cheney warns: "He’d do it all again if given the chance"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published January 31, 2022 1:27PM (EST)

Liz Cheney, Donald Trump and Adam Kinzinger (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Liz Cheney, Donald Trump and Adam Kinzinger (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Members of the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot called out former President Donald Trump's "admission" that he wanted Vice President Mike Pence to "overturn" his election loss.

Trump cited the recent bipartisan push to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to claim that he was correct that Pence had the power to "change the outcome" of the election. The admittedly confusing law, which governs the certification of electoral votes, makes clear that the vice president's role is purely ceremonial but Trump allies circulated a memo by right-wing lawyer John Eastman claiming that Pence had the power to unilaterally reject certain electoral votes on Jan. 6. A bipartisan group of senators is working on a bill that would clarify the law in an effort to deter similar efforts in the future.

"If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had 'absolutely no right' to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?" Trump said in a statement, repeating his repeatedly debunked false claims about the election. "Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn't exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!"

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., rejected Trump's claim in an interview with CNN.

"We're taking a look at the Electoral Count Act because it's an old statute and ... some of our colleagues in the House had tried to exploit ambiguities in it," she said. "But I frankly think the role of the vice president will probably remain unchanged."

Lofgren pointed out the irony of Trump's claim, noting that if he believes the vice president can "choose the next president" then Vice President Kamala Harris would be free to reject electoral votes from Republican states in January 2025. 

RELATED: Trump is feeling the heat from investigations — and wants his mob to save him

Conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic, trashed Trump's argument on Twitter.

"The Twelfth Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 already make it entirely clear that the Vice President merely opens the envelopes," he wrote. "But sometimes we want to make laws even clearer so that even semiliterate psychopaths have a chance at understanding them."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of the two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, called out the silence in his own party over Trump's "admission."

"This is an admission, and a massively un-American statement," he tweeted. "It is time for every Republican leader to pick a side … Trump or the Constitution, there is no middle on defending our nation anymore."

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice-chair of the committee, linked Trump's statement to his earlier comments at a weekend rally in Texas, where he suggested he may pardon Capitol rioters charged in the Jan. 6 attack if he is elected again, and called for possible protests against the various prosecutors investigating him.

"Trump uses language he knows caused the Jan 6 violence; suggests he'd pardon the Jan 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy; threatens prosecutors; and admits he was attempting to overturn the election," Cheney said on Twitter. "He'd do it all again if given the chance."

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At his Saturday rally in Texas, Trump claimed that Capitol rioters jailed on charges related to the attack were being treated unfairly.

"If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly," Trump said at the event in Conroe, Texas. "And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly."

Numerous Republicans pushed back on the comments. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, called the statement "inappropriate."

"I don't want to send any signal that it was OK to defile the Capitol. …  I don't want to do anything that would make this more likely in the future," Graham told CBS News on Sunday. "It will make more violence more likely," he added. "I want to deter people who did what on Jan. 6. And those who did it, I hope they go to jail and get the book thrown at them because they deserve it."

During the Texas rally, the ex-president also attacked New York Attorney General Letitia James, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis, all of whom are Black, over their various investigations into his company's business practices and his effort to overturn his loss in Georgia.

"If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had ... in Washington, D.C, in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt," Trump said.

The statement prompted Willis, who is investigating Trump's attempt to "find" enough votes to overturn his loss, to contact the FBI. Willis sent a letter to J.C. Hacker, FBI special agent in charge of the Atlanta field office, asking for security assistance after "security concerns were escalated this weekend" by Trump's rhetoric, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I am asking that you immediately conduct a risk assessment of the Fulton County Courthouse and Government Center, and that you provide protective resources to include intelligence and federal agents," Willis wrote. "It is imperative that these resources are in place well in advance of the convening of the Special Purpose Grand Jury."

A court last week granted Willis' request to impanel a special grand jury to investigate Trump.

"We must work together to keep the public safe," Willis wrote to the FBI, "and ensure that we do not have a tragedy in Atlanta similar to what happened at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021."

Read more on the Trump investigations and the Jan. 6 aftermath:

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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