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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Justice Department asks Pence to answer questions as part of Jan. 6 probe

    Washington — Justice Department prosecutors have asked former vice president Mike Pence to answer questions as part of their sprawling probe into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, according to two people familiar with the matter.

    The informal request came in recent weeks — before last Friday, when Attorney General Merrick Garland named a special counsel to oversee aspects of the Jan. 6 probe as well as a separate investigation of former president Donald Trump's possession of hundreds of classified records at his home after leaving the presidency.

    Pence has not decided how to handle the request that he answer questions about his interactions with Trump near the end of their time in the White House, said one person briefed on the discussion. Both people familiar with the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

    Pence has not been issued a formal subpoena, said one of the people, describing the talks with the Justice Department as being in a preliminary stage. Both people said the department has reached out to Pence lawyer Emmet Flood, who is representing the former vice president in this matter.

    The New York Times was the first to report the Justice Department's extraordinary ask of the former vice president: that he share his private conversations with his former running mate, president and de facto party leader, even as Trump has launched a new campaign for the White House and Pence is also considering a 2024 bid.

    The Justice Department has already engaged in lengthy negotiations with other advisers to Trump over requests to interview them, navigating issues of executive privilege. A request for Pence to relay sensitive conversations with the president could trigger a new battle over that issue.

    The move to talk to Pence is a significant step in the long-running investigation. Garland faced intense criticism in 2021 and early 2022 for appearing to be slow to investigate the role of Trump and his top aides in efforts to reverse the results of the presidential election. The department's probe expanded in March to look at those who planned and financed the rally before the Capitol riot and to request phone records for critical players in Trump's White House and orbit, up to and including his chief of staff Mark Meadows.

    Later this spring and summer, the Justice Department sought vast amounts of additional information, including communications with several top advisers to Trump and scores of others involved in efforts to offer up fake slates of pro-Trump electors in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and other states won by President Biden.

    Pence aides, including chief of staff Marc Short, have answered hours of questions in front of a Washington-based grand jury about Jan. 6, when a riotous mob left a Trump rally and stormed the Capitol, as well as the events that led up to that day and Trump's interactions with Pence and his team in the White House. Short has appeared twice in front of the grand jury.

    At the same time, the Justice Department is compiling witnesses and evidence in its Mar-a-Lago documents probe, which focuses on the potential mishandling of highly classified information, obstruction and destruction of government property. And in Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis (D) is conducting a separate investigation of the efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse the election results in that state.

    In interviews for his recent book, "So Help Me God," Pence has criticized Trump for actions that Pence said were "reckless" and "endangered" him, his family and everyone at the Capitol. In an ABC "World News Tonight" interview published Nov. 13, Pence called out Trump for his words egging on his supporters on Jan. 6 and for tweeting that his vice president didn't have the courage to block the certification and "do what should have been done."

    "I mean, the president's words were reckless," Pence said in a preview clip. "It was clear he decided to be part of the problem." But Pence also said in another interview that speaking to the congressional committee investigating the events leading up to the attack on the Capitol — including Trump's pressure on Pence — would undermine the separation of powers between the branches of government.

    Pence did not appear in front of the Jan. 6 committee and was critical of its composition, even as some of his top aides appeared and he blessed their appearances, the people familiar with the matter said.

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