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CLARENCE PAGE: Pence still walks a shaky line between courage and cold feet

Now Donald Trump wants to blame Mike Pence for the people who shouted, “Hang Mike Pence”?

Amazingly, the former president has sharply rebuked his former vice president’s contention that history will hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Instead Trump told reporters Monday that it is Pence who should bear the blame for the violent riot by Trump’s supporters. All he had to do, Trump said, was take the law into his own hands.

“Had he sent the votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6,” Trump said, referring to Pence’s refusal to reject the Electoral College votes in Congress as Trump wanted him to do that day. “So in many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6.”

“Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, No. 1, you would have had a different outcome,” Trump added. “But I also believe you wouldn’t have had Jan. 6, as we call it.”

Isn’t that classic Trump? When reality doesn’t suit him, he bends it.

Trump sounds as if he is still clinging to the ambiguous provisions of the 1887 Electoral Count Act, with which some of his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to delay or even overrule the 2020 electoral vote count that President Joe Biden won.

Congress has since updated the act, but Trump still hangs onto the old ambiguities, if only to stir more suspicions such as those that drove the pro-Trump Jan. 6 mob after months of the former president’s false stolen election claims.

Trump had been asked about Pence’s criticisms of him and Fox News host Tucker Carlson over Jan. 6, along with Pence’s praise of the media that Trump constantly calls “fake news.”

I’m a witness. Pence delivered his remarks at the 138th annual Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner, an ancient, nontelevised dinner in which journalists and political figures in speeches and songs make fun of each other.

Trump also addressed the gathering in one of his presidential years but never returned despite our repeated invitations. I was club president in 2015 and somehow still have been allowed to offer my own attempts to sing and dance.

Be happy and perhaps relieved that my performance was not televised. The program is off the record, although speeches are not.

Tradition calls for three speakers, who this year were Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the White House, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for the Democrats and Pence for the GOP.

Pence was appropriately funny for most of his short speech. “I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible,” Pence quipped, “which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.”

But he also was passionately blunt about the predicament in which Trump had put him — and the nation — on Jan.6.

Pence said Trump was “wrong” in claiming that the vice president had the authority to overturn the election results. “I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence said.

Pence also slammed efforts by some to rewrite that day as a “peaceful tourist visit,” noting that “tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by sightseeing.” Pence appeared to be referring to Carlson and others who have tried to pretend that ample footage of graphic violence on Jan. 6 doesn’t exist.

Trump’s “reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day,” Pence said. “I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”

Yet, I must ask, how can history or anyone else properly hold the former president accountable if Pence won’t share details of his interactions with Trump leading up to the 2020 election and the day of the attack on the Capitol? Why did Pence recently file a motion to block a federal grand jury subpoena seeking his testimony in the investigation of that attack.

And why, for that matter, has he stonewalled efforts to provide the American people — and the Department of Justice investigating Jan. 6 — a full accounting of all the events surrounding that day?

“The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Pence said.

That’s right, sir. I wish you would do more to help us find out.

Contact Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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