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9 takeaways from Jan. 6 committee hearing: Al Gore, Mike Pence met history test Trump flunked

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WASHINGTON — Following the brutal 2000 Florida recount and the Supreme Court ruling in Bush vs. Gore, when the day came, then-Vice President Al Gore, presiding over the Senate, gaveled through the electoral vote count making his presidential defeat final.

There was never any question that a vice president had the power to change the outcome of a presidential election, even when his own fate was in the balance. Gore could not do it in 2000; nor could then-Vice President Mike Pence in 2020, even under pressure from President Donald Trump who was being fed spurious legal theories, which, if true, would let Vice President Kamala Harris pick the winner in 2024.

Trump’s pressure campaign on Pence, who will visit Chicago on Monday to deliver a major speech on the economy at the University Club of Chicago, was the focus of the Jan. 6 committee’s third hearing Thursday. The witnesses were Greg Jacob, former Pence counsel, and retired federal appeals court judge Michael Luttig, who was an informal Pence adviser.

Gore, whose concession was never in question after the Supreme Court ruled, and Pence, who never wavered in carrying out his duty to certify the election, met the test of history Trump flunked.

More takeaways:

1. PENCE IN ILLINOIS: Trump is flirting with a 2024 run as the Jan. 6 hearings are building a case he may have committed crimes in trying to deny President Joe Biden’s victory. That has not stopped Pence and others from testing the 2024 presidential waters. Pence has two stops in Illinois on Monday — his economic speech downtown and, later in Peoria, where he keynotes a major Illinois GOP event, the Peoria and Tazewell County Republican Central Committees joint Lincoln Day dinner.

In Chicago, Pence will have a chance to bash the Biden administration as it struggles with record inflation and soaring gas prices.

2. TRUMP LAWYER EASTMAN AT THE CENTER OF THE SCHEME: The hearing threw a spotlight on attorney John Eastman, whose influence over Trump grew as Trump embraced his legal theories about Pence having the power to reject the electoral votes from some states. Eric Herschmann, a lawyer advising Trump testified in a video deposition he said to Eastman, “Are you out of your ‘f-ing’ mind” in rejecting his legal strategies. Herschmann also advised him to find a criminal defense lawyer.

Herschmann also warned, if the election was reversed, “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.”

3. NEWS: EASTMAN SOUGHT PARDON: Committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., revealed Eastman pled the fifth some 100 times during his deposition and asked to be on Trump’s “pardon list.”

4. CHILLING: Video of the mob at the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence.”

5. THREAT TO DEMOCRACY: The hearing showed how close Trump may have come to overturning the election, if not for Pence’s determination to resist the man who made him vice president. Committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., thanked Pence for “saving” our democracy and, looking ahead, noted, “The danger has not receded.”

6. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CONNECTION: Eastman is a 1995 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and Jacob was a member of the class of 1999. The UofC law school connection was the subject of some banter at the hearing.

7. HISTORY LESSON: Jacob offered this perspective about the role of a vice president when it came to what had been seen as a mostly ceremonial role of certifying the electoral votes before a joint session of Congress. No vice president in 230 years claimed they had the authority to change the outcome. And consider this: If a vice president had the power Eastman and Trump claimed, why has it not been used before?

Jacob, asked Pence’s reaction when told of the theory he could decide the election replied, Pence’s “first instinct was there was no way that any one person, particularly the vice president who is on the ticket and has a vested interest in the outcome in the election, could possibly have the authority to decide it.”

8. KEY QUOTE: Committee vice-chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., said, “Frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person can choose the American president. What the president wanted the vice president to do was not just wrong — it was illegal and unconstitutional.”

9. A SOUNDBITE: Luttig said pushing the legal notion that Pence could overturn the 2020 election results by gaming the Electoral College was “constitutional mischief.”