Former US Vice President Mike Pence offered his most forceful rebuke to date of his one-time boss Donald Trump on Saturday, saying that history will hold him accountable for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Pence was in the Capitol when thousands of Trump supporters breached the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden.
As the vice president has the constitutional role of Senate president, Pence was presiding over what had always been the ceremonial task of approving the votes of the Electoral College to select the president and vice president.
Throughout the siege, Trump sent several tweets, one calling on Republicans to “fight” and others making false claims of voter fraud. He also criticized Pence for certifying the results.
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence told assembled journalists and their guests at the Gridiron dinner, an annual white-tie event in Washington DC.
“I had no right to overturn the election, and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Pence, who is considering a run for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election, was whisked to safety by law enforcement during the attack.
He rarely addressed Jan. 6 in the months following the incident but has since upped his criticism of the rioters and the behaviour of his former boss that day.
He has sharply criticized Trump’s conduct in recent media interviews, and in a memoir released in November, he accused Trump of endangering his family.
Still, Pence’s comments on Saturday were his most pointed to date.
“What happened that day was a disgrace,” he said. “And it mocks decency to portray it any other way. For as long as I live, I will never, ever diminish the injuries sustained, the lives lost, or the heroism of law enforcement on that tragic day.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside business hours.
Pence’s relationship with Trump has been complex since the two left office. He had criticized the former president’s behaviour but refrained from the most stinging rebukes of Trump. He also declined to cooperate with the House of Representatives committee investigating the Capitol attack, describing the work done by the mainly Democratic body as partisan.
The former vice president’s comments on Saturday indicate he is willing to more forcefully distance himself from Trump as the 2024 campaign heats up – even if that means alienating the millions of Republican voters still loyal to the former president.
His remarks came just days after conservative television host Tucker Carlson aired security footage of the Capitol attack, claiming that many of the rioters were “orderly”.
Carlson’s depiction of January 6 was sharply criticized by Democrats and several high-profile Republicans in the Senate, though many other Republicans – particularly in the House -shrugged off the episode.