Pence calls potential 2nd Trump indictment 'extremely divisive' and 'unprecedented'

At his first campaign event since announcing his bid for the White House, former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said the potential federal indictment of Donald Trump would be "extremely divisive" for the nation and that he hopes the Department of Justice only moves forward with "unprecedented" charges if they are certain in their case.

"I think it would send a terrible message to the wider world," Pence said. "But again, let me be very clear: No one's above the law. And if the Department of Justice chooses to move forward with an indictment, I would hope that it would meet the very high threshold for the unprecedented action of a federal indictment against the former president."

When asked if Trump, a candidate who is facing multiple criminal investigations -- while denying wrongdoing in each -- best represents the Republican Party, Pence said it was time for "new leadership."

He's repeatedly emphasized this split view of his former boss, both in the months leading up to his 2024 campaign kickoff and as his bid officially got underway in Iowa this week.

Pence has praised the work he and Trump did together as president and vice president, but he has also expressed skepticism about authorities bringing charges against Trump -- while criticizing Trump's insistence on trying to overturn the 2020 election.

MORE: Who's running for president in 2024 and who might run

During his kickoff speech on Wednesday, Pence said Trump's push to have him reject their Electoral College loss, which would have been unconstitutional, meant Trump should "never" be president again.

On Wednesday, ABC News reported that Trump has been informed by special counsel Jack Smith that he is the target of an ongoing investigation related to his handling of classified information while out of office.

Such target letters are to warn people they face possible indictment. Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

He separately faces a criminal case in New York City related to hush money paid to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels and has pleaded not guilty.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence talks to local residents during a stop at the Pizza Ranch, on June 8, 2023, in Waukee, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

While the former vice president on Thursday stayed clear of directly saying that a federal indictment would make Trump unfit for office again, he referred back to messaging in his announcement speech: "Anyone that puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asked someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again."

Pence spent just shy of an hour with voters at the Pizza Barn in Waukee, Iowa. He and wife Karen shook hands with slightly less than two dozen Iowans before sitting down with Joel Collison, an assistant pastor at a church in Davenport, Iowa; Peter Jaques and his daughter; Brenna Capon, a database facilitator at Faith Baptist Bible College; Kris Ortale and Dallas County GOP Chair Kelley Koch.

Iowa is set to host Republicans' first nominating contest early next year, and the state has long encouraged presidential hopefuls to focus on a meet-and-greet style of campaigning.

One attendee at the Pizza Barn told ABC News that she and her daughter first heard about Pence's visit on the local news on Wednesday night and came out to meet him after realizing it was nearby while out running errands.

Another attendee, Morgan Dodds came with her 6-year-old son and a plush with a photo of her husband, who is active duty in the U.S. Air Force. She told ABC that she's undecided between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump and Pence.

MORE: Trump's 2024 rivals, Republicans weigh in on another possible indictment

Pence's retail politicking came the same day as a super PAC backed by his supporters, Committed to America, launched their first advertisement of the season in the state.

The ad, titled "Leader," directly challenges Trump for his actions on Jan. 6.

Displaying images of the Capitol attack, a voiceover portrays two diametrically opposed leaders: "A weak man appeases a mob; a man of courage and character stands up to them. That day, one man failed the test of leadership, while another stood tall. And since then, this so-called leader has continued to abandon our conservative principles."

"Mike Pence has proven he won't back down to Trump. Where is the rest of the field?" Bobby Saparow, executive director of Committed to America, said in an emailed statement. "This ad sets the tone for what you can expect from us. No issue will be off limits for our operation."

The one-minute spot will run Thursday through June 20 in Iowa as part of a $250,000 cable and digital buy across the state.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, left, talk with local residents during a stop at the Pizza Ranch, on June 8, 2023, in Waukee, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Pence joins an increasingly crowded field of Republican hopefuls who will have to woo Iowans in order to secure a top spot in the state's caucuses, which kick off the party's nominating season -- as early polls show Trump remains the front-runner.

As Pence makes a big bet on Iowa Republican caucus-goers by launching his campaign there rather than his home state of Indiana, it's clear from half a dozen interviews with his launch attendees that they are far less locked-in on him.

Advisers from Committed to America political action committee say they're devoted to introducing Pence to Iowa, one county at a time.

"People know Mike Pence, they just don't know him well," Scott Reed, the group's co-chair, said during the super PAC's launch. "This campaign is going to reintroduce Mike Pence to the country as his own man, not as vice president, but as a true economic, social, and national security conservative -- a Reagan conservative."

"We're going to organize Iowa, all 99 counties, like we're running him for county sheriff," added Reed, who previously managed Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

ABC News' Libby Cathey and Rachel Scott contributed to this report.

Pence calls potential 2nd Trump indictment 'extremely divisive' and 'unprecedented' originally appeared on