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Trump knew Capitol was breached when he disparaged Pence in tweet, Democrat says

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WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump knew violence had taken hold at the Capitol on Jan. 6 when he tweeted that Mike Pence wasn't willing to overturn the election, according to a member of the House committee investigating the insurrection who told NBC News the panel will show the former vice president was in more physical danger than previously known.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., who will play a key role in leading the committee's third public hearing on Thursday, previewed the panel's findings by telling NBC News that Pence was "evacuated in just the nick of time" from the quickly advancing mob after a disparaging tweet from Trump.

Aguilar said that just minutes after the doors to the Capitol had been breached, while Pence was in his ceremonial office, Trump tweeted that his second-in-command didn't have the courage to overturn the election results. Moments later Pence was whisked to an evacuation area by Secret Service agents, Aguilar said.

"We notice right away, you know, within 90 seconds, the vice president is being evacuated right after that Trump tweet," Aguilar said in an interview with NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake.

"[Trump] knew that there was violence and he still tweeted the vice president didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary," Aguilar added.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., speaks to NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2022. (Frank Thorp V / NBC News)
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., speaks to NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2022. (Frank Thorp V / NBC News)

“They had already noticed that it was unsafe there because of the windows, but clearly, right at that time, they knew that they needed to get out of there,” he said.

Aguilar characterized Trump’s tweet as crucial “because that’s the point at which the president pointed, you know, to the mob and said it’s the vice president’s fault.”

Due to Pence’s proximity to the mob at that moment, Secret Service moved to evacuate Pence and his family from the ceremonial office to an undisclosed location. Thursday's hearing will include never-before-seen photos of Pence in the undisclosed location, Aguilar said.

After being evacuated, Aguilar said the vice president was making calls to congressional leaders and the acting Defense Secretary, while members of his staff had talked to the top Republicans in each chamber: Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"He was acting like one would expect a leader to act," Aguilar said, commenting on how Pence had asked about the safety of others. "But it’s also very clear that he didn’t get checked in on. The president didn’t reach out to the vice president at any point to ask if he was safe."

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., speaks to NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2022. (Frank Thorp V / NBC News)
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., speaks to NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2022. (Frank Thorp V / NBC News)

Thursday’s hearing — the third of at least seven planned by the House committee for June — will focus on the internal battle within the Trump White House over whether Pence could unilaterally stop Joe Biden’s election certification and keep Trump in power.

The hearing will chronicle the "pressure campaign" on Pence in the lead up to certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6 and detail how Trump used Twitter and was “singling out” Pence to alter the election, Aguilar said.

“This was a coordinated effort, time and time again, after they lost court case after court case,” he said. “Donald Trump started to focus his attention on January 6th and Mike Pence and wanted him to violate the Constitution and set aside the ballots and the electors.”

The hearing is slated to include live testimony from former Pence counsel Greg Jacob and retired federal judge Michael Luttig, who also advised Pence. Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff at the time, will not be testifying in-person but his recorded testimony may be used during the hearing, according to a Jan. 6 committee aide.

All three Pence associates had rejected the erroneous, far-fetched legal theory touted by conservative attorney John Eastman that the vice president had the authority to reject slates of electors from states where Republicans were launching election challenges.

"The testimony we've heard is that vice president never wavered," Aguilar said. "He never wavered that he didn’t have this authority. And time and time again when asked by the president he would say that nobody should have this type of authority."