The day before a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff summoned Mr. Pence’s leading Secret Service agent to his office in the West Wing.
The chief of staff, Marc Short, had a message for the agent, Tim Giebels: the president would publicly turn on the vice president and that could pose a security risk to Mr. Pence.
The stark warning—the only time Mr. Short flagged a security problem during his tenure as Mr. Pence’s top assistant—was discovered recently during this reporter’s research for an upcoming book, “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America,” will be out in October.
According to acquaintances of the events, Mr Short did not know what such a security risk could look like. But after days of mounting pressure from Mr. Trump on Mr. Pence to take the extraordinary step of intervening in electoral college certification to avoid Mr. Trump’s defeat, Mr. Short appeared to have good cause for concern. . The vice president’s refusal to go along exploded into an open and bitter rift between the two men at a time when the president provoked the ire of his supporters pouring into Washington.
Mr Short’s previously unreported warning reflected the remarkable tension in the West Wing as Mr Trump and a group of allies, while the clock was running low, desperately sought a way to undo the election. Mr Trump became agitated as his options were closed, and it became apparent that he was failing in his last-ditch effort to force his formerly docile vice president to unilaterally reject voting results in key states.
The warning also shows concern at the highest levels of the administration about the danger that Mr Trump’s expected actions and words on Jan. 6 could lead to violence.
It is unclear what Mr Giebels did with the warning. But if Mr. Trump attacked his second-in-command — and democratic standards — in an attempt to stay in power, it would prove prophetic.
A day after Mr. Short, more than 2,000 people — some chanting “Hang Mike Pence” — stormed the Capitol while the vice president oversaw the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. Outside, angry Trump supporters had set up a fake gallows. After mr. Pence had been rescued, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly told colleagues that Mr. Trump said that Mr. Pence maybe should have been hanged.
New details from the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 help understand how Mr. Trump and his allies tried to intimidate Mr. Pence into accepting their baseless theory that the vice president had the authority to overturn congressional certification of electoral college results. block—and how Mr. Pence’s refusal to do so would endanger him.
A Secret Service spokeswoman did not respond to an email asking for comment. A spokesman for Mr Pence declined to comment.
About five months after the Capitol bombing, Mr. Pence said, “There is almost no idea more un-American than the idea that one person could elect the US president.”
A few weeks after Election Day on November 3, 2020, aides to Mr. Pence learned that some in Mr. Trump’s loose network of advisers were discussing the possibility of January 6, 2021 — established by law as the day of electoral college certification — as a potentially critical date in Mr Trump’s efforts to stay in power. Soon, Mr. Pence asked his general counsel, Greg Jacob, to write a memo explaining his powers during the certification.
The memo did not take a clear position, but Mr. Pence’s advisers continued to investigate the matter, eventually concluding that the vice president was not empowered to dictate the outcome.
But Pence and his team were regularly pressured by a cast of Trump supporters who claimed he had such power.
In late December, Mr. Pence traveled to Vail, Colorado, for a family vacation. While there, his aides received a request to meet with Sidney Powell, a lawyer who promoted some of the more far-fetched conspiracy theories about flaws in voting machines, and who wanted to bring Mr. Trump into the White House, ostensibly over his false claims of to investigate widespread voter fraud.
The request to meet with Ms. Powell was passed through Kelli Ward, the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, according to a person familiar with the exchange. Ms. Ward had joined a lawsuit filed by Texas Republican Representative Louie Gohmert asking a court to say that, during the Electoral College certification, Mr. Pence could decide whether to accept ballot lists from states or reject.
The lawsuit claimed exactly what Mr. Pence’s aides claimed he didn’t have the power to do. Some of Pence’s advisers suspected that Ms. Powell wanted to serve the vice president with legal papers related to the case.
mr. Short objected to Ms. Ward’s support of the lawsuit. She told him they wouldn’t pursue it if Mr. Trump felt uncomfortable about it. (The proposed meeting with Ms. Powell never took place.) Ms. Powell and a spokesperson for Ms. Ward did not respond to emails requesting comment.
There were other points of friction that made the Pence team very alert about the print campaign. mr. Meadows told Mr. Short that the president withheld approval of a pot of transition funding for Mr. Pence to set up an office after the White House.
Amid the mounting tension, Mr. Shortly between Christmas and New Years Day, Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior advisor to Mr. Trump, asking how he could avert an untenable clash between the Pence and Trump camps. Mr Kushner dodged the outreach, saying he was engaged in negotiations in the Middle East.
At one point, John McEntee, the chief of the presidential staff, wrote a handwritten note circulating in the West Wing that seemed to acknowledge that Mr. Pence did not think he could influence the outcome of the election.
But while Mr. Trump has failed in his other efforts to undo the results, Mr. Pence continued to receive unsolicited memos claiming he had the power to block certification — including one from Mr. McEntee that goes way back in U.S. history. looked to find a precedent: “JEFFERSON USED HIS POSITION AS VP TO WIN.”
Mr Trump also persisted and soon tried more direct means to pressure Mr Pence. On January 4, 2021, he convened the vice president to meet with John Eastman, the attorney who had been particularly influential in pushing the case that the vice president could intervene. During the meeting, Mr. Eastman seemed to acknowledge that Mr. Pence did not have the power to arbitrarily decide the election. Still, he insisted the vice president could send the results back to states to re-evaluate the results during a 10-day recess.
In early January, Mr. Pence made it clear to Mr. Trump that he did not believe he had the power to do what the president wanted, but he also indicated that he would continue to study the matter.
Mr. Trump tweeted on the morning of Jan. 5 that Mr. Pence could turn down voters. He had tried to persuade some of his informal advisers outside the White House to go to the Naval Observatory, the official residence of the vice president, to seek an audience to pressure Mr. Pence. That day, Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Pence again, urging him to do what the vice president said he couldn’t.
It was that day when Mr. Short called Mr. Giebels to his office.
The next day, Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman addressed a crowd of thousands of Trump supporters at a rally in the Ellipse near the White House, ahead of the Electoral College certification start at 1 p.m. Eastman both publicly pressured Mr. Pence to do what they wanted.
“You will never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told his supporters. At another point, he said, “Mike Pence, I hope you’re standing up for the good of our Constitution and the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’ll be very disappointed in you. I’ll tell you now. I don’t hear good stories.”
Mr. Trump, who repeatedly told his aides he wanted to march to the Capitol when certification began, told the crowd he would. But the Secret Service told him they couldn’t protect him, and he returned to the White House.
At about 1:00 p.m., Mr. Pence released a memo making it clear that he disagreed with the president about his authority to intervene in the certification. The memo was not pre-shared with White House counsel; trust between the offices was then broken.
Soon, Mr. Trump’s supporters poured into the Capitol, breaking through doors and windows and disrupting the tally.
Mr. Giebels rushed Mr. Pence out of the Senate Chamber and took him to an underground loading dock. The vice president refused to get into a waiting car, despite repeated urging from Mr. Giebels, convinced that the rioters and others would thus gain a victory over a fundamentally democratic process, his aides said.
Mr. Pence stayed there for hours, until it was safe to return to the Senate Chamber, where he insisted on completing the certification process.
His post-White House transition funding was approved shortly after Jan. 6.