US judge orders Pence to testify in January 6 attack probe

US media reports that the ruling may compel Mike Pence to speak about Donald Trump’s actions after the 2020 election.

Mike Pence at podium
Former US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Coolidge Presidential Foundation conference at the Library of Congress on February 16 [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

A United States federal judge has ordered former Vice President Mike Pence to testify before a grand jury, as the Justice Department continues its investigation into whether former President Donald Trump attempted to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election.

The ruling from US District Judge James Boasberg remains sealed.

But major US media outlets, including Reuters and the Associated Press, have reported that the decision will compel Pence to appear in court and speak about conversations he may have had with Trump in the lead-up to the 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

That attack, on January 6, saw thousands of Trump supporters storm the seat of Congress to disrupt the certification of the election results. The flood of rioters sent politicians fleeing for safety and left police officers and participants injured or dead.

Pence, who was at the Capitol at the time, will not be required to talk about his actions on that day. As vice president at the time, he played a ceremonial role, overseeing the election certification.

He will, however, likely be asked to identify any illegal acts that may have been committed by his former boss, then-President Trump.

Such a scenario is unheard of in US politics, and legal teams for both Trump and Pence have objected to the prospect of the former vice president testifying.

The Associated Press reports that Pence’s lawyers are weighing whether to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

His legal team previously argued that Pence is protected from grand-jury subpoenas under the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which shields Congress members from legal action for anything said during legislative activities.

Speaking on the right-wing news channel Newsmax on Tuesday, Pence indicated that the judge’s ruling would limit what he could testify about, in deference to the “speech and debate clause”.

“I’m pleased that the court accepted our argument and recognised that the Constitution’s provision about speech and debate does apply to the vice president,” he said.

“But the way they sorted that out and the requirements of my testimony going forward are a subject of our review right now, and I’ll have more to say about that in the days ahead.”

Pence has previously denounced Trump for his actions in the lead-up to the Capitol attack.

“His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable,” he said at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, DC, earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Trump’s team reacted to Tuesday’s ruling by reiterating claims that the Justice Department’s investigations into the former president were politically motivated.

“The DOJ is continuously stepping far outside the standard norms in attempting to destroy the long accepted, long held, Constitutionally based standards of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege,” the statement said.

In November, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to the helm of two investigations into Trump: one into the former president’s handling of classified documents and the other into whether Trump attempted to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.

But Trump also faces numerous legal woes elsewhere. He faces a separate election-related inquiry in Georgia, and last week he sparked rumours of an impending arrest in a New York case about an alleged hush-money payment to a porn star.

Trump has already announced he will run for a second presidential term in 2024, but there has been speculation Pence may race against him for the Republican nomination.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies