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Mike Pence says voters are ready to move past Trump for a ‘fresh start’

Written by on March 19, 2023

(WASHINGTON) — In an exclusive ABC News interview, former Vice President Mike Pence expressed dissatisfaction with the possible arrest of former President Donald Trump and expanded on pointed remarks regarding his former boss and the Capitol insurrection — as well as his vision for the future of the country as he mulls a potential 2024 presidential bid.

In a sit-down in Des Moines, Iowa, that aired Sunday, Pence told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl that Trump’s handling of Jan. 6 was one of the reasons the country and, perhaps more pointedly, Republicans need a “fresh start.”

“The president’s wrong. He was wrong that day and … I had actually hoped that he would come around in time, Jon, that he would see that the cadre of legal advisers that he surrounded himself with had led him astray,” Pence said after Karl played a clip of Trump defending the rioters. “But he hasn’t done so and it’s, I think, it’s one of the reasons why the country just wants a fresh start.”

Pence, who has been traveling across the country and recently released a memoir, has not been shy in suggesting that his party should be looking elsewhere for candidates for the White House, repeatedly saying he’s confident there will be “better choices” than Trump even as he says he has not yet made a decision about running himself.

He told Karl that any hypothetical support for Trump in the 2024 race is “yet to be seen” — though he wouldn’t rule it out while once again indicating there will be other options for the American people.

“We’re going to decide as a family whether we offer ourselves as one of them, but I think different times call for different leadership,” Pence said.

“I think the American people long for leadership at the highest level that’s focused on the issues that are affecting their lives. And also, I think they longed for leadership that will keep faith with our highest traditions,” he said.

But he remained vague about when, specifically, he might announce. He has said that he and his family hope to come to a decision by the spring but when Karl followed up, he demurred, only adding that he’s getting “closer” amid “prayerful consideration.”

Jan. 6 accountability

Since leaving office in 2021, Pence has worked to separate himself from Trump regarding the violence of Jan. 6 and the related push to overturn the 2020 presidential election. At the same time, he has said he remains proud of the administration’s work and legislative accomplishments — on lowering taxes, on military spending, on the border and more — which he reiterated in his ABC News interview, only days after again rebuking Trump’s choices around the Capitol attack.

Speaking at the white-tie Gridiron Dinner in Washington, Pence said earlier this month that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6.”

While the event wasn’t recorded, his quotes were published by journalists present — and he went further in his “This Week” interview.

“We all face the judgment of history, and I believe in the fullness of time that history will hold Donald Trump accountable for the events of Jan. 6, as it will other people that were involved,” he said.

Karl asked him: “In what ways?”

“Well it will be the judgment of history, I truly believe it. And I also think the American people will also have their say,” Pence said. “I mean the president is now a candidate for office again, he’s running for election, but as I go around the country, I’m convinced the American people have learned the lessons of that day.”

Pence said he had his own strong feelings about what happened but seemed to set that aside for a broader message as he weighs a potential campaign.

“I was angry that day. And while I believe in forgiveness, I’ve been working hard at that for a while. The president let me down that day. … but be honest with you, the emotions of that day, the emotion since, I just haven’t had time for it. To me, there’s just too many issues that we’re facing this country today under the failed policies of this [Biden] administration that I don’t have a lot of time for looking backwards.”

When pressed by Karl if he still finds Trump to be a man of his word, Pence conceded that he holds some disappointment in Trump personally, despite believing the pair delivered on their administration’s promises.

“One issue after another, I saw the president keep the word that he made to the American people and I was proud those four years to stand with him. And I know that grates on some people in the national media, Jon,” Pence said.

“As I wrote in my book, I’m incredibly proud of the record of our administration,” he said, though he acknowledged, “It didn’t end well, ended in controversy.”

Karl returned to the question: “I’m not asking you about the record. I’m asking you about the man.”

“I was deeply disappointed with the president’s words and conduct in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and on Jan. 6. … And I continue to be disappointed in the fact that the president has not seen his way clear to know that by God’s grace, we did our duty that day,” he said.

What happened at the Capitol turned into a breaking point, Pence said, despite his private conversations with Trump.

“When the president committed to a peaceful transfer of power [right after Jan. 6], when he condemned the violence at the Capitol, I thought we were back on track and in the week that followed we would we spoke, I was very direct with him about my experience, and my view of it, and my belief that I’d done my duty, and we parted amicably and respectfully,” he said. “But in the months that followed, he returned to that that same rhetoric he was using before Jan. 6, rhetoric that continues much up to this day, and that’s why we’ve gone our separate ways.”

In response to Pence’s Gridiron remarks, Trump told reporters that Pence shoulders some blame for the riot due to his refusal as president of the Senate to halt the certification of the presidential election results.

Trump also knocked Pence’s lagging popularity in surveys of Republican primary voters.

“I heard his statement, and I guess he decided that being nice isn’t working because he’s at 3% in the polls, so he figured he might as well not be nice any longer,” Trump told a group of reporters aboard his plane en route to Iowa last week.

GOP fissures on Ukraine

Trump is not the only other Republican with whom Pence has found noted disagreement. On Russia’s invasion, he contrasted his view with that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans like him who voice skepticism of U.S. aid to Ukraine as they fend off Russia’s invasion.

DeSantis recently called the invasion a “territorial dispute.” Pence stressed to Karl that he feels it is crucial to stand with the Ukrainians.

“The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It’s a Russian invasion. It’s just the latest instance of Russia attempting to redraw international lines by force,” he said, “and the United States of America must continue at a quickened pace to provide the Ukrainian military the support that they need to repel the Russian invasion, and the stakes are that high.”

Though he has said that there’s no room in the GOP for “Putin apologists,” Pence did not further criticize DeSantis by name. However, he did add that “there are voices in our party that don’t see a vital American interest in Ukraine, but I see it differently,” and he said he found DeSantis’ perspective on the matter “wrong.”

Karl asked Pence how he felt about Trump’s own recent Ukraine comments, calling for a cease-fire that might preserve the current status quo, with Russia in control of some Ukrainian land.

“Whether it’s President Trump or others in our party around the country, there are those who see some choice before us other than giving Ukraine the ability to fight and win against the Russian invasion. I believe it’s imperative that we stand firm,” Pence said, “that we continue to provide the Ukrainian military the resources that they need to repel the Russian invasion. And that will be the fastest way to secure peace and stability in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe.”

A potential Trump arrest

There is one major area where Pence and Trump see eye-to-eye: Trump’s possible arrest.

On his social media platform Saturday morning, Trump claimed that he would be taken into custody on Tuesday in connection with the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into alleged hush money paid to Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump also called for his supporters to protest.

He has denied wrongdoing, including denying having an affair with Daniels, but has admitted he paid her — once defending it as “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”

A Trump spokesperson appeared to walk back his arrest comments in a subsequent statement this weekend, saying in part that there had been no notification that Trump’s potential arrest was coming on Tuesday and that “Trump is rightfully highlighting his innocence and the weaponization of our injustice system.”

Pence echoed that to Karl.

“It just feels like a politically charged prosecution here. And I, for my part, I just feel like it’s just not what the American people want to see,” he said.

He said he believes Trump is “innocent until proven guilty.”

Karl asked Pence about his reaction to Trump calling for protests should he be taken into custody — which echoed Trump’s push for protests leading up to and during Jan. 6

Pence did not disavow Trump’s call, citing that “the American people have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble” though he stressed that any demonstration should occur “peacefully and in a lawful manner.”

ABC News has not verified Trump’s claims.

While Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office had no comment, he wrote in an email to staff obtained by ABC News that “we do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”

“I know that President Trump can take care of himself and — and this process will play out, if in fact an indictment comes down,” Pence told Karl. “But I just have to tell you that the politicization that we see … is deeply troubling to millions of Americans who want to see the equal treatment before the law.”

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