Exclusive: January 6 committee interested in at least 5 people from Pence’s inner circle
The House select committee investigating January 6 is interested in gathering information from at least five members of former Vice President Mike Pence’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the effort.
Among them is Pence’s former national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, who was subpoenaed by the committee on Tuesday and was with former President Donald Trump most of the day on January 6.
Multiple sources tell CNN that some individuals close to Pence may be willing, either voluntarily or under the guise of a “friendly subpoena,” to provide critical information on how Trump and his allies tried to pressure the former vice president to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
According to sources familiar with the discussions, some Pence aides are proving more willing to engage with the committee than previously made public.
Chairman Bennie Thompson confirmed to CNN last week the committee was in the process of reaching out to Pence associates but said their efforts had been met with mixed success.
“Well, yes and no,” Thompson replied when asked if Pence associates had been cooperative. “I don’t want to just say yes, when there have been some people who clearly have said no. So we’ve had, you know, people on both sides.”
Thompson did not reveal the names of any of the people the committee has been in contact with or could reach out to. But sources tell CNN the list consists of several people who are close to Pence, including former chief counsel Greg Jacob and former chief of staff Marc Short. Also of potential interest to the committee, according to a source with knowledge, are Pence’s previous chief of staff Nick Ayers, former legislative affairs director Chris Hodgson, political adviser Marty Obst, and former special assistant Zach Bauer.
In addition, former Pence press secretary and Trump communications aide Alyssa Farah, who left the administration in early December 2020, has voluntarily met with Republicans on the House select committee and provided information, as CNN reported last month.
Jacob, Hodgson, Ayers and Bauer did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. Kellogg and Short declined to comment.
In an email, Obst told CNN he has not had “any contact with the January 6th committee to this point and no one has reached out to me.”
On Tuesday night, a federal judge denied Trump’s attempts to withhold records from the committee, dealing a forceful blow to the former president’s efforts to keep more than 700 pages of documents from his White House secret. Though Trump’s legal team says it intends to appeal, the ruling raises doubts over his ability to stop Pence aides from helping the committee.
Kellogg on Tuesday became the first person in Pence’s inner circle to be subpoenaed by the committee. In its letter to Kellogg, the committee specifically expressed interest in learning more about at least one January 2021 meeting with Trump and White House attorney Pat Cipollone, during which Trump insisted that Pence not certify the election.
The committee also stated that Kellogg was at the White House on January 6 as the attack unfolded and has “direct information” regarding Trump’s “statements about and reactions to the Capitol insurrection.”
While Kellogg served as Pence’s national security adviser, he is considered a key witness because of his proximity to Trump on January 6. The former president’s then national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was out of town that day.
According to sources who spoke to CNN, Jacob has also emerged as a person of significant interest to the committee. As Pence’s general counsel, Jacob played a critical role in countering efforts to persuade the former vice president not to certify the electoral results.
Jacob was part of Pence’s team who pushed back against John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who embraced fringe legal theories about the vice president’s ability to overturn the election.
The committee has long considered Jacob a potential fact-witness in their probe. But he became more prominent following a report in The Washington Post, which CNN has confirmed, that Eastman, who was advising Trump, sent Jacob an email during the riot blaming Pence for causing the violence at the US Capitol.
The pursuit of cooperation from Jacob, as well as others close to Pence, underscores the committee’s interest in learning more about any pressure related to blocking certification of the election results.
“There was very clearly a plan on the political coup side to mobilize a campaign to get Mike Pence to block certification of the electoral college votes,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a select committee member, told CNN.
“Eastman’s activities are perfectly clear at this point. He was the architect of the legal strategy to claim for the first time in American history that the Vice President had the unilateral authority to reject electoral college votes that were the result of popular elections,” Raskin said, adding that Eastman is “obviously a figure of intense interest to the January 6 select committee.”
Jacob could provide a first-hand account of Eastman’s role in that effort. Eastman was subpoenaed by the committee on Monday.
A fraught political path
The committee’s work presents a significant political challenge to Pence as he attempts to chart a path separate from Trump, raising money and building out a team ahead of a possible White House run in 2024.
While Pence has defended his refusal to delay the counting of electoral votes on January 6, people close to him have acknowledged the peril in engaging too overtly with the committee, which many Republicans have denounced as partisan.
The committee’s interest in some of Pence’s closest allies — and the question about the extent to which those aides may cooperate — complicate an already tricky political road ahead for the former vice president.
Pence needs to maintain his distance from Trump’s fight to overturn the election while also cultivating his ties to the former President’s base.
Then there is the looming question of whether Trump himself might run for president again. People close to Pence have told CNN that the former vice president, once known for his unwavering loyalty, won’t wait to see what Trump decides.
The events of January 6 remain a source of division between the former vice president and Trump’s most loyal supporters within the GOP. The hostility to the committee among many Republicans and conservative media means Pence has to be careful, said David Kochel, an Iowa Republican operative.
“Pence needs to figure out how to defend his own actions to follow the Constitution while not hitting that trip wire,” Kochel said.
Pence has repeatedly reaffirmed his decision to certify the electoral count since leaving office, saying his actions were constitutional. He has even called the effort to overturn the 2020 election results “un-American.”
And when asked at an event in Iowa last week who “told you to buck President Trump’s plan” on January 6, Pence replied bluntly, “James Madison.”
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