January 6 hearing: Trump a 'clear and present danger to US democracy'

House panel held third hearing on former US president's pressure on vice president to overturn 2020 election results

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Former US president Donald Trump and his supporters continue to pose a "clear and present danger" to American democracy, a retired federal judge who advised former vice president Mike Pence has said.

J Michael Luttig made his comments as part of explosive testimony in front of a House of Representatives committee on Thursday.

The nine-member panel has spent nearly a year investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol.

It heard how the former president repeatedly pressured Mr Pence, whose job it was to certify the 2020 presidential election results, to reject votes from states that Mr Trump falsely said had suffered from voter fraud.

Witnesses described his last-ditch efforts to persuade Mr Pence to overturn the election as “nuts,” “crazy” and even likely to incite riots.

"Had vice president Pence obeyed the orders from the president … that declaration of Donald Trump as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a paralysing constitutional crisis in America,” Mr Luttig said.

The renowned conservative legal scholar called Mr Trump's continuing refusal to accept the election results and his supporters' continued propagation of lies a "clear and present danger" to democracy in the US.

Mr Luttig outlined how close he believed democracy came to collapsing as he appeared at the committee's third June hearing.

The session focused on the pressure campaign mounted by Mr Trump against Mr Pence to help him cling to power.

The panel heard how Mr Trump had relied on his spurious legal theory that his vice president could overturn the election through the advice of his lawyer, John Eastman.

"There was no basis in the constitution or the laws of the United States at all for the theory espoused by Mr Eastman. At all. None," Mr Luttig said.

Mr Eastman refused to co-operate with the panel's investigation.

The former president tried to have Mr Pence overturn the presidential election during meetings in the days leading up to January 6.

On the morning of January 6, he called Mr Pence, and daughter Ivanka Trump testified that "the conversation was pretty heated". Others said the former president threw insults at Mr Pence.

Mr Trump still tried to persuade him by mentioning him several times in a "Stop the Steal" speech, where he told rallygoers to "fight like hell" on a march to the Capitol.

His attempts failed since Mr Pence wrote a letter to Congress before presiding over the joint House and Senate electoral vote certification, saying vice presidents do not have "unilateral authority" to overturn election counts.

"No vice president in American history has ever asserted such authority," he said.

Meanwhile, the pro-Trump mob threatened to hang Mr Pence for not following the former president's orders, with some members setting up a gallows.

Committee member Pete Aguilar said the mob came within 12 metres of Mr Pence, who sheltered in a secure location.

"Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president's life was in danger," Mr Aguilar said.

A Proud Boys informant told federal authorities that they were ready to kill Mr Pence or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if they had a chance that day.

Mr Trump's team brought forward dozens of legal challenges in several US states in November and December, all of which failed and compelled the former president to depend on Mr Pence to overturn the results.

Greg Jacob, who was Mr Pence’s chief counsel, testified about how he had consulted with the former vice president on certifying the election results on January 6.

“There is no justifiable basis to conclude that the vice president has that kind of authority,” he told committee members.

Recorded depositions aired by the committee showed Mr Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also did not believe Mr Pence had the authority to do what he asked.

During the hearing, committee member Liz Cheney also detailed “war-gaming several scenarios” and “fake electors” among Trump-supporting advisers and lawyers.

The committee's continuing public hearings are trying to show the American public that Mr Trump had a central role in the attack on the US Capitol.

Previous hearings covered his part in advancing debunked claims that the 2020 election was rigged, all while brushing off advisers who fought those claims.

Mr Trump issued a statement attacking the "one-sided" and "slanderous" committee, and demanded "equal time" to "spell out the massive voter fraud" of 2020.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 5:51 AM