GREENSBORO, NC — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday criticized the Justice Department, rather than Donald Trump, for a scathing 37-count indictment in which he accused his former boss of conspiring to hide top-secret documents from authorities that protect their sought return.
“The American people have a right to know the basis of this decision,” Pence told North Carolina Republicans gathered for their state convention, which Trump was due to speak at just hours later. “Attorney General Merrick Garland, stop hiding behind the Special Counsel, come before the American people and explain why these charges have been brought.”
As Pence left the stage after 40 minutes, he ignored repeated questions from reporters as to whether he had read the indictment and whether he thought it would have come if Trump had falsely turned over secret documents held at the FBI’s request.
Pence’s decision to blame prosecutors for charging Trump with a crime — rather than Trump, who has refused to turn over hundreds of the documents even in the face of a subpoena — puts him in line with most other candidates standing for running the 2024 GOP presidential nomination against Trump.
Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy even vowed to pardon Trump on his first day in office should he win.
Only former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Trump was responsible for his own problems and that his behavior made him unfit for the presidency.
After the FBI searched Trump’s country club in Florida last summer, after Trump failed to turn over all classified documents in his possession and after aides to Joe Biden also discovered files in the Democratic president’s home, Pence searched his own apartment and also found secret material. He called the FBI, which led to further searches. The Department of Justice recently announced that its investigation into Pence has ended without charge.
“I took full responsibility and was glad the Justice Department concluded it was a harmless mistake,” he said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Friday. “But it was a mistake. We must protect our nation’s secrets.”
Pence was almost killed in Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021 in Washington. A mob, who erupted in a seething rage when Trump criticized Pence for lacking the “courage” to reverse his 2020 election defeat, came yards from meeting Pence in the Capitol. Many of Trump’s supporters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as they prowled the hallways in search of him.
Nevertheless, Pence remained moderate in his criticism of Trump. It was only in his campaign announcement last week that Pence said for the first time that Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election through the Jan. 6 uprising has barred him from running for office again.
He has reiterated that belief in subsequent appearances and did so in North Carolina on Saturday.
“Anyone who puts themselves above the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” Pence said in his remarks. Republicans in the Sheraton Ballroom in Greensboro gave polite applause as Pence explained his actions Jan. 6 in rejecting Trump’s demands.
Melissa Crespo, a delegate for the Lincoln County party committee, said she absolutely could not support Pence.
“I don’t think he should run against Trump. I just find that disloyal,” she said. “He betrays the people who supported him as vice president.”
Pence’s “First in Freedom” luncheon attracted 600 convention-goers, who each paid $75 to attend the fundraiser. His meal was one of three tickets the party hosts. A dinner with Republican hopeful Ron DeSantis drew about 900 visitors who paid $150 per ticket, while a dinner with Trump on Saturday night sold nearly 1,000 tickets at $150 each.