Washington (AFP) -
A retired federal judge testified Thursday that Donald Trump's demand for Mike Pence to reject the results of the 2020 US election would have triggered a 'revolution' had the vice president obeyed.
J Michael Luttig had advised Pence that his role in overseeing Congress's ratification of the 2020 election on January 6 last year was purely ceremonial -- rejecting Trump lawyer John Eastman's theory that Pence had the power to unilaterally overturn Joe Biden's victory.
Luttig, a renowned conservative legal scholar, told a hearing of the congressional committee investigating the 2021 US Capitol assault that had Pence gone along with the plot, it would have triggered a 'what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a paralyzing constitutional crisis in America.'
The jurist outlined how close he believed democracy came to collapsing as he appeared at the committee's third June hearing, which focused on the pressure campaign mounted by Trump against Pence to help the defeated Republican leader cling to power.
'There was no basis in the constitution or the laws of the United States at all for the theory espoused by Mr Eastman. At all. None,' Luttig said.
Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee, described Eastman as the architect of a 'nonsensical theory' he knew was based on false claims.
'Under several of the scenarios, the vice president could ultimately just declare Donald Trump the winner, regardless of the vote totals that had already been certified by the states,' Cheney said, describing Eastman's plan.
'However, this was false and Dr Eastman knew it was false. In other words, it was a lie.'
- Inept legal challenges -
The committee is in the middle of a run of televised hearings on the insurrection mounted by a pro-Trump mob to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and overturn the results of the 2020 election.
It has already revealed testimony from many of Trump's closest allies who said he was told repeatedly he had lost a fair fight to Biden but declared victory and pushed his election fraud narrative anyway.
Eastman's theory, essentially, was that Pence had the power to reject states' results due to allegations of fraud.
This could have handed the presidency to Trump, according to Eastman's plan, because deciding the outcome would then have fallen by an arcane procedure to the House of Representatives.
House Republicans, who had a majority of state delegations even though they didn't control the chamber, would have selected the next president.
The committee showed testimony from Pence's general counsel Greg Jacob saying he believed Eastman admitted in front of Trump on January 4 that his plan would violate federal law.
The insurrection took place two days later, delaying Congress certifying the election results for several hours.
The committee also played testimony from Trump White House attorney Eric Herschmann, who told Eastman the day after the insurrection: 'Get a great effing criminal defense lawyer. You're going to need it.'
As dozens of legal challenges dismissed as inept and ethically suspect failed in courts across the land, a desperate Trump turned to Pence for illegal help, the committee heard.
Trump tried to persuade Pence to intervene in the presidential election in meetings at the White House on January 4 and 5 and in a call the morning of January 6.
- 'Hang Mike Pence' -
He used rally speeches and Twitter to exert intense pressure on Pence to abuse his position as president of the Senate to reject the election results as they were being ratified.
During his 'Stop the Steal' rally ahead of the joint session of the House and Senate to ratify the election, Trump mentioned Pence numerous times as he told his supporters to march on the Capitol and 'fight like hell.'
But Pence wrote to Congress that the Founding Fathers never intended the vice president to have 'unilateral authority' to overturn election counts, adding that 'no vice president in American history has ever asserted such authority.'
The mob whipped up by Trump threatened to hang Pence for failing to cooperate as they stormed the Capitol, and even erected a gallows in front of the building.
Cheney said last week that when the subject of the 'hang Mike Pence' chants came up at the White House, Trump responded: 'Maybe our supporters have the right idea' and that Pence 'deserves' it.
'What the former president was willing to sacrifice -- potentially the vice president -- in order to stay in power is pretty jarring,' Democratic panel member Pete Aguilar said.
The panel attempted to draw a line from Trump's pressure on Pence to the violence with a video clip of a rioter saying that he would 'drag people through the streets' if Pence 'caved' to pressure not to overturn the election.