Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @DeanObeidallah@masto.ai. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Former Vice President Mike Pence’s speech Saturday night at the annual Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington, DC, served up a few laughs, some kernels of truth and a massive helping of hypocrisy.
That last portion surfaced when Pence told the audience of journalists and politicians, “The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6.”
Remarkably, those comments came from a person who declined to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection, and who recently filed a motion to block a federal grand jury subpoena seeking his testimony in the investigation into that attack.
But first Pence provided what this dinner is known for, namely comedic barbs targeting political figures. For example, he repeatedly mocked former President Donald Trump with jokes such as: “I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible.” Pence then quipped, “Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.”
Next came the truth portion of the speech when Pence — turning deadly serious — bluntly told the audience that Trump was “wrong” in that “I had no right to overturn the election.” Pence even made this personal, saying Trump’s “reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.” He added, “I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
The former vice president also rightly slammed efforts by some to rewrite the January 6 attack as a visit by “tourists,” declaring, “Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”
That is when Pence delivered the hypocrisy — so laughable that it fit better with the comedic portion of his speech. After saying the public has a right to know what happened that day, he praised the media’s reporting of the insurrection, saying, “The American people know what happened that day because you never stopped reporting.” He then added powerfully that this reporting served to “preserve and strengthen this great democracy.”
Pence is right on both accounts. So why then has he stonewalled efforts to provide the American people — and the Department of Justice investigating January 6 — a full accounting of all the events surrounding that day? And how can history hold the former President accountable, as Pence hopes, if he won’t share the details of his interactions with Trump leading up to the 2020 election and the day of the attack on the US Capitol.
Pence is in a unique position to provide the American public — and special counsel Jack Smith — with the facts concerning both Trump’s actions and the January 6 attack itself. The report drafted by the bipartisan House committee backs that up. For example, the report notes, “Despite knowing that such an action would be illegal … Donald Trump corruptly pressured Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes during Congress’s joint session on January 6th.” We should know exactly what Trump did, and who better than Pence to tell us?
While Pence declined to speak to the January 6 committee when asked last fall, the report details that Pence had “said publicly that he told President Trump there was no basis to allege that the election was stolen.” The report also highlights that “(w)hen a reporter recently asked, ‘Did you ever point blank say to the President [that] we lost this election?,’ Pence responded that ‘I did. … Many times.’ ” We need to know what Trump said in response to understand fully the lead-up to January 6.
Then there was Pence’s phone call with Trump the morning of January 6. As laid out in the report, witnesses in the Oval Office — including Ivanka Trump — testified under oath that during this call, “Trump grew very heated.” Some witnesses said Trump called Pence a “wimp” and used “the p-word,” warning him it would be ” ‘a political career killer’ to certify the lawful electoral votes electing President (Joe) Biden.”
Again, only Pence knows the details of that and all the other conversations with Trump — which is information the public absolutely deserves to know. But when the January 6 committee asked Pence to testify in November 2022, he told CBS News, “I am closing the door on that, but I must say again, the partisan nature of the January 6 committee has been a disappointment to me.”
I disagree that the January 6 committee was “partisan,” but why is Pence resisting talking to a federal grand jury about what he knows? There’s not a hint of partisanship there. Yet Pence filed a motion this month to block the subpoena, arguing it was “unconstitutional and unprecedented.”
Pence can’t have it both ways. Either he shares with the American people a full accounting of what Trump did and said in the lead-up to January 6 or he should be viewed as being complicit.
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The former vice president is correct when he says reporting on what happened on January 6 strengthens our democracy. Conversely, Pence withholding the details of Trump’s actions in connection with January 6 from the American people — as well as federal investigators — does the exact opposite.