Protest ‘politically charged’ investigation into Trump peacefully, Pence says in Iowa

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Former Vice President Mike Pence and Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst discuss foreign policy and other issues during an event hosted by the Bastion Institute at the River Center in Des Moines on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Photo by Erin Murphy

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence greets people after a foreign policy discussion hosted by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and the Bastion Institute at the River Center in Des Moines on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Photo by Erin Murphy

DES MOINES — Former Vice President Mike Pence, in Iowa on Saturday, called the apparent, pending arrest of his old boss, former President Donald Trump, a “politically motivated prosecution.”

As for Trump’s call on social media for his supporters to protest, Pence said Americans upset about the matter should express themselves peacefully but not repeat the violent protests on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

“Look, we respect the right of Americans to let their voice be heard and to express their frustration over what appears to be a politically motivated prosecution of the former president,” Pence told reporters Saturday in downtown Des Moines. “But we want to send a very clear message that violence will not be tolerated and that anyone that would engage in violence would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Pence was in Iowa on Saturday to participate in a discussion on foreign policy with Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst.

Early Saturday, Trump posted on social media that he expects to be arrested on Tuesday. Trump is the subject of an investigation into allegations that in 2016 he paid two women to silence them about sexual encounters they said they had with him a decade earlier.

Trump ended his post by writing in all caps, “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” In a subsequent post, he concluded with a similar call, again in all caps, “WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”

Pence spoke to reporters for a little more than five minutes Saturday, fielding questions about Trump’s claim that he will be arrested and his calls for protest.

“The idea of indicting a former President of the United States is deeply troubling to me, as it is to tens of millions of Americans, and particularly happening in what appears to be a politically charged environment in New York where the Attorney General and other elected officials literally campaigned on the pledge to prosecute the former president,” Pence said. “No one is above the law. I’m confident President Trump can take care of himself. My focus is going to continue to be on the issues that are affecting the American people.”

Pence warned against violent protest similar to the attacks on the U.S. Capitol in January of 2021, when Trump called on his supporters to help stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results that he lost.

That day, Trump claimed without merit that as Vice President, Pence had the authority to stop the certification and send the process of confirming the election results back to the states. Some of the protesters at the U.S. Capitol that day could be seen and heard on video chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Pence also warned against the kind of violence that occurred in 2020 in some cities where people were protesting police brutality after a Minnesota man was killed by a police officer.

“The American people have every right to peaceably assemble and let their voice be heard. And I think it’s extremely important the people have a right to express themselves,” Pence said. “But that being said, there can be no tolerance for the kind of violence that we saw on Jan. 6 or throughout the summer of 2020.”

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During the foreign policy discussion with Ernst, Pence reiterated his support for U.S. aid to the Ukrainian military in its defense against the Russian invasion. And he expressed support for Ernst’s characterization of an American first foreign policy means a priority on U.S. interests, but not in isolation from other nations.

“It’s about American leadership,” Pence said. “It’s not a choice of whether we’re engaged or unengaged. It’s how we engage and the way we engage, by putting the interest, the security and the prosperity of our nation first, and demand of other nations that they join with us and follow behind us as we advance the cause of freedom in the world.”

Pence’s position on Ukraine differs from other prominent Republicans running for or considering a run for president in 2024. Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have both expressed opposition for ongoing U.S. support to Ukraine.

“I know some people say that we can’t take care of getting our economy moving again, securing our border, take care of things here at home and doing that. But that’s a pretty small view of the greatest nation on Earth. We could do both,” Pence said. “We could revive this country, secure this country, prosper this country and be the leader in the free world.”

In a news release, the Iowa Democratic Party claimed that Trump’s foreign policy was “dangerous” and accused Pence of standing by Trump while the former president sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies.

Pence at Saturday’s event did not shy away from his time as VP, regularly referring to the “Trump-Pence” administration during his remarks.

Pence was in Iowa to participate in a discussion on foreign policy with Republican Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. The event was hosted by the Bastion Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed in 2022 that says on its website its mission is to “bring together some of the brightest minds across the country to discuss the path toward strengthening America’s leadership and standing on the international stage.” The group is headed by Republican strategists and foreign policy experts.

Ernst and the Bastion Institute previously hosted U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, both South Carolina Republicans. Haley has declared her candidacy for president, and Scott is mulling a run.

Saturday’s event also featured former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who earlier this month ruled out a run for president this cycle.

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