Trump legal team singles out Biden’s ‘Dark Brandon’ post as capitalizing on indictment

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys singled out a meme post from President Biden on social media in a court filing Monday arguing against the scope of a proposed protective order.

Trump’s attorneys made the filing in Washington, D.C., in the Justice Department’s case against the former president for his attempts to subvert the 2020 election results.

Prosecutors had asked for a protective order to limit how widely evidence could be shared in the wake of a social media post by Trump vowing to go after anyone who targeted him.

In response, Trump’s attorneys argued in part that the former president’s political opponents have campaigned on the indictment at a time when Trump is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

“President Biden has likewise capitalized on the indictment, posting a thinly veiled reference to his administration’s prosecution of President Trump just hours before arraignment,” his attorneys wrote.

The filing then includes a photo of a post on Biden's personal account on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in which he wrote: “A cup of Joe never tasted better,” with a link to a mug with the "Dark Brandon” image of Biden with lasers shooting out of his eyes.

The tweet includes a short video clip of Biden sipping from the mug and saying he likes his coffee “dark.” It was posted at 11:18 a.m. Thursday. Trump’s court appearance took place roughly five hours later.

The “Dark Brandon” meme is a viral image and a winking nod to a more devious alter ego for the 80-year-old president. It stems from White House allies co-opting a taunt in which conservatives would chant “Let’s Go Brandon” as a coded message for “F--- Joe Biden.”

Biden's campaign sells merchandise with the image printed on coffee mugs and T-shirts, and Biden made a joking reference to the meme at the White House Correspondents Dinner this year.

Biden has yet to publicly comment on Trump’s indictment in Washington, and both the president and White House aides have remained adamant that they have had no discussion with Justice Department officials about the cases against Trump.

Still, Trump has relentlessly claimed that the charges against him are a case of election interference intended to harm his White House bid.

Trump is leading the Republican primary race by a wide margin, according to polls, but polling of a hypothetical rematch between Trump and Biden in 2024 shows a close race. A New York Times/Siena College poll published last week found a hypothetical match-up between the two to be deadlocked at 43-43 percent.

Biden: GOP may try to impeach me now that inflation is cooling

President Biden on Friday touted the strength of the economy, suggesting during a speech in Maine that Republicans would move to impeach him because of progress on inflation.

Biden made his first visit to Maine since taking office, where he spoke at Auburn Manufacturing Inc., a textile manufacturer. The president’s trip was intended to highlight positive economic numbers and reinforce the White House’s belief that Biden’s policies are responsible for easing inflation and growing consumer confidence.

“While there’s more work ahead, earlier this week The Washington Post suggested Republicans may have to find something else to criticize me for now that inflation is coming down,” Biden said. “Maybe they’ll decide to impeach me because it’s coming down. I don’t know. I love that one. Anyway, that’s another story.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier this week said he expects the House GOP’s investigations into the foreign business activities of Biden’s family to rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry. He later said House lawmakers would carry on with their investigations into the president and his family, as well as the president’s handling of the border.

Some House Republicans have been agitating for impeaching Biden for months, though many Republican senators have cautioned against moving forward with such a measure.

While in Maine, Biden signed an executive order to incentivize creating new inventions in the U.S. when those inventions are developed using taxpayer dollars. The order also aims to improve transparency to better track progress toward domestic manufacturing goals.

The White House has spent the past month pushing the message around “Bidenomics,” seeking to tie the president closely to an economy that has continued to show signs of strength.

The economy grew at a 2.4-percent rate in the second quarter in a surprisingly strong showing, according to data released this week.

In addition, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index, a measure of inflation, rose 3 percent from June 2022 to June 2023, down from a 3.8 percent annual increase in May, the Commerce Department announced Friday. 

Core PCE, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, cooled from 4.6 percent year-over-year in May to 4.1 percent in June.

"I’m not here to declare victory on the economy. We have more work to do. We have a plan for turning things around," Biden said Friday. "Bidenomics is just another way of saying, ‘Restoring the American dream.’”

Donalds, DeSantis aides clash over Florida’s new education guidelines

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) clashed Wednesday with aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his presidential campaign after the congressman expressed reservations about new education guidelines in the state focused on African American history.

Donalds, the lone Black Republican in the Florida congressional delegation and a supporter of former President Trump's 2024 bid, said the state's new standards for African-American history are "good, robust, & accurate."

"That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn't the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this," Donalds posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Florida’s new guidelines, which passed last week, require lessons on race to be taught in an “objective” manner that does not seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”

One update requires teachers to instruct on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” 

DeSantis aides were quick to criticize Donalds, accusing him of parroting White House talking points in the wake of sharp criticism from Vice President Harris and other administration officials.

"Supposed conservatives in the federal government are pushing the same false narrative that originated from the @WhiteHouse," Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis' press secretary, posted on X in response to Donalds. "Florida isn’t going to hide the truth for political convenience. Maybe the congressman shouldn’t swing for the liberal media fences like @VP."

Donalds responded with surprise that he was taking incoming after expressing support for most of the changes.

"Anyone who can't accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points," Donalds posted. "Just another reason why l'm proud to have endorsed President Donald J. Trump!"

Christina Pushaw, who served in the governor's office and works on the DeSantis campaign's rapid response team, replied with a GIF of Harris giving a thumbs up.

Redfern retweeted Pushaw's message, and in a separate response to Donalds wrote that the congressman was "repeating false talking points pushed by the Biden @WhiteHouse."

The online sparring between DeSantis's team and Donalds comes as the governor's presidential campaign has undergone something of a reset in the face of difficulties gaining ground on Trump in the polls and questions about the operation's spending strategy.

DeSantis entered the presidential race in May and was widely viewed as Trump's most formidable challenger, but the governor has struggled to put a dent in the former president's sizable polling lead nationally and in early voting states like Iowa.

His campaign has faced blowback for multiple online missteps, including its initial launch on Twitter Spaces and the sharing of a video criticizing Trump as too friendly to the LGBTQ community.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, called it a "disgrace" for a DeSantis spokesperson to be attacking the congressman.

"Congressman Byron Donalds is a conservative hero,” Miller said in a statement to The Hill. “The Republican Party is lucky to have him as a leader, and President Trump is honored to have his endorsement.”

"The Congressman also calls it like he sees it, and if he thinks something is BS, he'll tell you,” Miller added. “That's why we like him so much.”

White House threatens to veto military construction, agriculture spending bills

The White House on Monday threatened to veto a proposed spending bill for military construction and veterans’ affairs, arguing that House Republicans are pursuing a partisan spending proposal that deviates from an agreement struck during debt ceiling talks.

"House Republicans had an opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process, but instead, with just over two months before the end of the fiscal year, are wasting time with partisan bills that cut domestic spending to levels well below the (Fiscal Responsibility Act) agreement and endanger critical services for the American people," the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

"These levels would result in deep cuts to climate change and clean energy programs, essential nutrition services, law enforcement, consumer safety, education, and healthcare," the statement added.

The Biden administration argued that the House GOP proposals would lead to additional cuts from the Inflation Reduction Act, a signature piece of legislation focused on climate and health care initiatives that passed with Democratic votes last year.

The House Republican bill would also have "devastating consequences including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the Administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion," the White House said.

More from The Hill

"The Administration stands ready to engage with both chambers of the Congress in a bipartisan appropriations process to enact responsible spending bills that fully fund Federal agencies in a timely manner," the statement added.

In a separate statement, the administration said President Biden would veto a proposed agriculture spending bill, citing similar concerns that it contained deeper cuts than were agreed upon during debt ceiling talks earlier this year.

Lawmakers are scheduled to take up the military construction and agriculture appropriations bills this week.

The White House and Republican leaders in May struck a deal over spending that included an agreement to lift the debt ceiling and avoid a default. As part of that deal, the two sides agreed to a rollback of nondefense discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels, while limiting top-line federal spending to 1 percent annual growth for six years.

Biden-Trump rematch is coming closer to reality

The presidential rematch many Americans say they don't want is coming closer to reality: President Biden vs. former President Trump in 2024.

Biden made his reelection bid official on Tuesday in a video announcement, and he is widely anticipated to be his party's nominee next year. 

Trump faces a tougher road to winning his party's nomination, with a field of primary challengers taking shape and expected to grow. But he so far is the clear front-runner despite a host of legal troubles, leading the pack in some polls by double-digits a few months out from the first scheduled debate.

The rematch would be a replay of one of the most negative and divisive elections in American history, culminating in Trump's refusal to concede and a riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol that forced the evacuation of Congress.

“There aren’t going to be that many people excited about a rematch because there aren’t that many people who want both of these people running for president,” said David Hopkins, an author and political science professor at Boston College.

An NBC News poll published Sunday found 70 percent of Americans and 51 percent of Democrats don’t think Biden should run for reelection in 2024. The same poll found 60 percent of Americans and roughly one-third of Republicans do not think Trump should run again.

An Associated Press poll published Friday found 65 percent of adults said they would probably or definitely not support Trump in a general election, compared to 56 percent who said the same about Biden.

Experts and strategists believe there are several factors contributing to the public’s lack of desire to see Trump and Biden face each other for a second time.

“Often, when you ask people, ‘Would you like someone else,’ it’s easy to conjure a hypothetical alternative candidate,” Hopkins said. “But when you ask people about flesh and blood alternatives, they tend to be less popular.”

For Biden, questions about his age continue to weigh on voters’ minds. Biden, who is 80, was the oldest president ever to be sworn in two years ago, and he would be 86 at the end of a full second term.

The NBC News poll found that of those who said Biden should not run again, 48 percent cited his age as a major reason. 

It is not unusual for an incumbent president to seek another term. What is unusual is a former president seeking to win back the White House while retaining his hold on the party, especially one like Trump who has been at the center of numerous unprecedented controversies for the past eight years, including two impeachments and a recent arrest in New York City.

“Some people aren’t happy with that matchup because anything with Donald Trump’s name attached to it, they’re not happy,” said Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way.

A Trump-Biden rematch would carry echoes of a particularly brutal 2020 presidential campaign that was set against the backdrop of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It featured vitriolic personal attacks, particularly from Trump’s team against Hunter Biden, and was marred by Trump's refusal to accept the results and the subsequent attack on the Capitol.

There have been times over the past two years when a Biden-Trump rematch did not seem as inevitable as it may now.

Republican leaders sought to distance themselves from Trump early in the aftermath of the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which was fueled by the former president’s repeated claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and stolen from him.

Biden, meanwhile, faced skepticism throughout 2022 from Democrats about whether he warranted a second term given his age and concerns about rampant inflation.

Democrats have since rallied behind Biden, who is not facing a serious primary challenge, after a stronger-than-expected showing in last November’s midterms, a raft of bipartisan legislation passed last year and the president’s handling of the war in Ukraine.

At the same time, Trump has solidified his grip on the GOP, earning a slew of endorsements from members of Congress in recent weeks. Sunday’s NBC News poll found Trump leading a hypothetical GOP primary with 46 percent support, with his next closest competition Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who polled at 31 percent.

National polls have consistently shown Trump with a double-digit lead on DeSantis and other would-be challengers, though state-level polls show a closer race, and in some cases have the Florida governor narrowly leading the former president.

For Biden and his team, the possibility of a rematch with Trump is “top of mind,” said Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary, Sunday on her MSNBC show.

“A race against Trump is definitely not a battle of policy ideas … which is why the comparison that the White House is focused on is not entirely on policy differences,” Psaki said. “It’s between a competent president and a chaotic Republican Party. Competence versus chaos. As of now, that contrast is kind of playing out on its own.”

“Biden did beat Trump last time, but he still has an incredibly tough fight ahead of him,” she added.

While polls have underscored the sense of national fatigue at the prospect of a Trump-Biden rematch, recent election cycles have indicated voters are as engaged as ever.

More than 158 million Americans cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, a record for turnout. 

The 2022 elections saw the second-highest voter turnout for a midterm since 2002, with roughly 107 million votes cast. The highest turnout came in 2018, when Trump was in office.

With Trump a big driver of turnout for Republicans who support him and Democrats who oppose him — and issues like abortion likely to be key for voters in 2024 — it’s expected that even those who’d rather see other candidates atop the ballot will still head to the polls next November.

“Anger is a great motivator in politics, and dissatisfaction can actually stimulate people to be more engaged with politics rather than to be apathetic,” said Hopkins. “That seems to be a big part of the story of why in our polarized age we’re seeing a surge in political activity. A lot of people are very strongly motivated by their dislike of at least one of the parties or at least one of the candidates.”

--Updated at 6:11 a.m.

Biden marks 20 years at DHS as controversy centers on Mayorkas

President Biden on Wednesday traveled to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to mark 20 years since the creation of the sprawling agency, as its leader, Alejandro Mayorkas, faces a barrage of criticism from Republican lawmakers.

Biden extolled the value of DHS, an agency that has faced its share of controversy since it was formed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to combat terrorism and potential threats against the United States. 

The agency has grown significantly in the 20 years since its creation. It now houses more than a dozen government agencies, and its purview includes matters related to immigration, cybersecurity, election integrity and disaster response. The department as a whole has roughly 260,000 employees, Biden noted.

“In the 20 years since DHS began, the world has become more interconnected, more complicated than ever, and new threats are emerging with the incredible advances in technology,” Biden said in prepared remarks. “Some are frightening ... many are reassuring. And yet because of you, America is safer and stronger and is better prepared to meet whatever threat we face.”

But, the agency’s work securing the southern border has been in the spotlight and the target of intense scrutiny during the past two administrations. 

The focus on the influx of migrants at the southern border has made it tough for other work of the department to get attention, argued Stewart Verdery, a former assistant secretary at DHS under President George W. Bush.

“Twenty years ago at its creation, DHS was supposed to tackle several equally important missions at all once — aviation security, securing international travel and disaster preparedness. Of course the southern border was part of the equation, but it wasn’t the whole equation,” he said. “But the political focus on migrant flows in this hemisphere by both the right and the left has almost made it impossible for the other missions to get any real attention, especially from the Congress.”

During the Trump administration, DHS was frequently at the center of criticism because of its immigration enforcement responsibilities. Former President Trump largely used the agency to implement his crackdown on the flow of immigrants into the country, and some Democrats during the last administration called for defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is housed within DHS.

Trump also publicly clashed with cybersecurity experts who said the 2020 election had been secure as the former president sowed doubt about the results.

Biden said on Wednesday that the work of DHS is now “even more important” than it has been in its 20 years, rattling off its work, notably including “protecting our air, our land, our maritime borders.”

The department was at the center of a firestorm over an order under Trump to separate migrant families who illegally crossed the border, and the government’s inability to reunite hundreds of those families in a timely manner has lingered into the Biden administration.

The department's secretary, Mayorkas, has been closely scrutinized by Republicans who have complained that he has not done enough to secure the southern border and reduce the flow of migrants. Some Republicans have called for Mayorkas’s impeachment over his handling of the border.

But Biden came to do the defense of Mayorkas, who he nominated, calling him a “true patriot” who “decided his career to protecting and serving the American people, while upholding our nation’s laws and standing up for American values.”

The ceremony on Wednesday also included remarks from Mayorkas, as well as recorded messages from former President George W. Bush and Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created under Bush's tenure.

“The people who work at DHS come to work every morning knowing their most important job is to protect their fellow citizens," Bush said in a pre-recorded message. "You’ve worked tirelessly and effectively to do just that. I thank you for your service to our country and for the sacrifices you have made in the pursuit of keeping your neighbors safe.”

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

Trump jumps into 2024 race with GOP at crossroads

President Trump is mounting a comeback bid with the hope that the GOP will once again rally behind him — just as some Republicans worry nominating him for president for a third time is a recipe for failure at the ballot box.

The former president announced the launch of his 2024 presidential campaign from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Tuesday night, claiming the country has slipped into anarchy under President Biden and arguing he could repeat the policy successes of his first term. 

But he did so at a time when the calls from some party members to move on from Trump are as loud as they’ve been since he left office under the cloud of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and a second impeachment.

Trump pointed to a strong economy before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, reworked trade deals and a brash approach to international relations that kept the U.S. out of foreign conflicts as a case for another term.

But he ignored the major concerns some in the party have about his viability, steering clear of his pandemic response and his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and absolving himself of blame for the party’s underwhelming midterm showing.

“The voting will be much different. 2024. Are you getting ready?” Trump said to applause. “I am, too.”

Republicans are sifting through the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, where expected sweeping victories never materialized. Democrats will hold on to their majority in the Senate, while Republicans appear poised to retake the House with a smaller margin than many hoped.

For some prominent figures in the party, it served as an inflection point. And while many did not name Trump explicitly, their message was clear: The party can choose to move away from making Trump central to everything it does, or it can risk more stinging defeats in 2024.

“We underperformed among independents and moderates, because their impression of many of the people in our party in leadership roles is that they’re involved in chaos, negativity, excessive attacks, and it frightened independent and moderate Republican voters,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who served alongside Trump for four years, said on SiriusXM that the candidates who fared best in the midterms offered forward-looking solutions to major problems like inflation and crime, while “candidates that were focused on relitigating the last election, I think, did not fare as well.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the 2022 midterms “the funeral for the Republican Party as we know it.”

And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is viewed as perhaps Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, expressed concern that the party was unable to capitalize on Biden’s unpopularity with many voters.

“These independent voters aren’t voting for our candidates, even with Biden in the White House and the failures that we’re seeing. That’s a problem,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

Some of the blame for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm performance has fallen on Trump, whose endorsements helped carry candidates through Senate, House and gubernatorial primaries but not to victory in the general elections. 

Trump made a point to address the midterm outcome during his speech, and he even acknowledged the party was facing deserved criticism. But the criticism should not be directed at him, Trump said.

Many of Trump’s highest profile and most meaningful endorsements lost in the general election: Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively; Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona’s Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively; Tudor Dixon in Michigan’s gubernatorial race; Tim Michels in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race; and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire’s Senate race.

Trump instead blamed voters for the poor showing for Republicans, suggesting they did not yet realize how bad the Biden administration’s policies would be for them.

“Citizens of our country have not yet realized the pain our country is going through … they don’t quite feel it yet. But they will very soon,” Trump said. “I have no doubt that by 2024 it will sadly be much worse, and they will see much more clearly what happened.”

The midterm results have left Trump’s influence within the party at perhaps its most precarious point since right after he left the White House, when many Republicans appeared ready to distance themselves from Trump after he spent months whipping supporters into a frenzy over the 2020 election, culminating in the riot at the Capitol.

While that criticism faded and much of the GOP has remained loyal to Trump in the two years since, the question now is whether the former president can stave off the push among some conservatives to move on to a candidate who can carry on Trump’s brand of politics without the baggage.

Pence has indicated he is giving thought to a 2024 presidential bid, as has former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both have said Trump’s campaign launch will not affect their decisions.

DeSantis, meanwhile, has become the star of the moment for many conservatives, earning fawning coverage from Fox News and the New York Post after a landslide reelection win last week.

The conservative Club for Growth, which broke with Trump on some of his midterm endorsements, released a poll on the eve of his 2024 announcement showing DeSantis leading Trump in head-to-head match-ups in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as their home state of Florida.

A Politico-Morning Consult poll released this week, however, was more favorable for Trump, finding that 47 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would back him in a presidential primary if it were held today, compared to 33 percent who said they’d support the Florida governor.

Since 2015, the party has been molded in Trump’s image. He reshaped the way the GOP discusses immigration, international alliances and trade. He brought scores of new voters into the fold, solidified the party’s hold on states like Ohio and Florida and developed a devoted following, giving him a remarkably high floor of support within the party.

But Trump has also turned off independent and moderate voters with his unpredictability, his constant personal attacks on those who criticize or oppose him, his fixation on the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen and his legal entanglements over his business dealings and handling of classified documents, the latter of which involved a search of the property where he made Tuesday night’s announcement.

Tuesday’s speech served as the start of what will be a lengthy decisionmaking process for the GOP about whether it will remain Trump’s party for the foreseeable future, or if the electorate is ready to move on.

"The journey ahead of us will not be easy,” Trump said. “Anyone who truly seeks to take on this rigged and corrupt system will be faced with a storm of fire that only a few could understand.”

Trump: Attack on Paul Pelosi a ‘terrible thing’

Former President Trump in an interview Sunday called the attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband in their San Francisco home a “terrible thing” as he railed against crime in Democrat-led cities.

"With Paul Pelosi, that’s a terrible thing, with all of them it's a terrible thing,” Trump said in an interview with Americano Media, a conservative Spanish language outlet. “Look at what's happened to San Francisco generally. Look at what's happening in Chicago. It was far worse than Afghanistan."

"We have to give the police back their dignity, their respect. They can solve the problem. But today if a police officer says something that’s slightly out of line it’s like the end of his life, the end of his pension, the end of his family," Trump continued. "We can’t do that. We have to give the police back their authority and their power and their respect. Because this country is out of control."

Trump remained silent on the attack on Paul Pelosi over the weekend, as others in the GOP sent mixed messages about it. Many Democrats, including President Biden, called for members of both parties to unequivocally condemn the attack as they worried about a rise in political violence.

Paul Pelosi, 82, was attacked early Friday morning in his home by an intruder, police said. Authorities arrived at the home and found the two men tussling over a hammer. The suspect then gained control of the hammer and used it to attack Paul Pelosi.

Paul Pelosi underwent surgery for a skull fracture and is expected to recover.

Before the assault occurred, the man confronted Paul Pelosi and shouted, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” according to a source briefed on the attack. The Speaker was not home at the time.

Biden and other Democrats tied the assailant's rhetoric and attack directly to Republicans' false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, something Trump still regularly promotes at rallies and on social media.

Trump and the Speaker have had a tumultuous relationship dating back to Trump's time in the White House. The two briefly tried to work together for an infrastructure deal and on other legislative matters, but the relationship rapidly soured, particularly after the first impeachment of Trump.

Nancy Pelosi went viral for ripping up Trump's State of the Union speech in early 2020. Trump repeatedly derided the Speaker as "Crazy Nancy." She has frequently deemed Trump unfit to hold office, and most recently gained attention for saying she would have "punched him out" had Trump tried to come to the Capitol during the rioting there on Jan. 6, 2021.

Updated at 11 a.m.

Why Mike Pence will be a key figure at Thursday’s Jan. 6 panel hearing

Former Vice President Mike Pence will not be present when the House Jan. 6 committee holds a prime-time hearing on Thursday, but he will be a central figure as the panel makes its first presentation to the public of what unfolded before and during the riot at the Capitol. 

Pence has not directly cooperated with the committee, but some of his former aides have. In recent months, a steady stream of new details has come out about Pence’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, and he has publicly rebuked former President Trump for saying the election was stolen. 

“I anticipate that we will hear about Mike Pence on Thursday night. You can’t tell the story without him,” said Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment. 

Pence’s role in certifying the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, 2021, hours after hundreds of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, has only become more of a flashpoint in the investigation of the day’s events and in Republican politics more broadly. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House panel investigating Jan. 6, has emphasized the significance of Pence refusing to leave the Capitol as rioters were inside the building, suggesting to do so would have given an opening for Trump’s allies to follow through on their plan in Pence’s absence. 

The New York Times reported late last month that at least one witness indicated to the committee that Trump reacted approvingly to chants calling for Pence to be hanged. 

And the Times also reported in recent days that Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short alerted Secret Service the day before the insurrection to warn of the potential security risks to Pence should Trump publicly turn on his vice president. 

The committee is likely to make the threat to Pence a central part of its presentation to the public as it seeks to capture public attention and lay out the gravity of the situation. 

The Washington Post reported that Michael Luttig, a conservative lawyer who advised Pence on handling his duties on Jan. 6, as well as former Pence aides Marc Short and Greg Jacob are among those expected to appear as witnesses during Thursday’s prime-time hearings. 

Eisen said showing how Pence rejected some of the legal arguments concocted by Trump’s advisers would help rebuff GOP attempts to brush off the committee’s findings as partisan. 

“So, the other way that Pence comes in is as a dose of reality in response to these lunatic legal theories that were circulating. So that’s an important part of the narrative,” Eisen said. 

Pence himself has grown increasingly willing to break with Trump over the events of Jan. 6 in particular as he charts his own post-White House path.  

The former vice president repeatedly referred to Jan. 6 as a “dark day” in history and spoke about upholding his constitutional duty in remarks to various conservative groups after leaving office. 

As Trump continued to make debunked claims that the 2020 election was rigged, Pence went a step further. In February, Pence explicitly said Trump was wrong to suggest he could overturn the result of the presidential election. 

“Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024,” Pence said at the time. 

Still, Pence has personally kept the Jan. 6 committee at arm’s length in public.  

In October, Pence suggested the media was focusing on the riot so extensively to distract from the Biden administration’s difficulties with the Afghanistan withdrawal and other domestic issues. 

And while former aides like Short and Keith Kellogg have testified before the panel behind closed doors, Pence himself has yet to come before the committee. 

A Pence spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, including on whether there had been any communication between Pence and the committee. 

“We have wanted to make sure that we get as much information as possible from as many material witnesses as possible,” Raskin said Monday during a Washington Post Live event when asked about the prospect of Pence testifying.  

“We want to figure out exactly what happened. And Vice President Pence was obviously the object of this political onslaught on Jan. 6, so we need to fill in the details as much as possible about what happened there.” 

Asked if Pence’s life was in danger on Jan. 6, Raskin urged the public to tune in on Thursday night. 

“Watch the hearings,” Raskin said. “The hearings will tell a story about what took place on that day.”