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WASHINGTON —Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, eyeing a 2024 run for the Republican presidential nomination, has delivered his strongest rebuke yet of the president he loyally served, Donald Trump. Pence said Trump was personally responsible for encouraging the January 6, 2021, riot of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, trying to keep Congress from certifying that Joe Biden had defeated the 45th president in the 2020 election.
"President Trump was wrong; I had no right to overturn the election," Pence told a group of elite Washington journalists and government officials at the annual Gridiron dinner Saturday night. "And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable."
Pence last week asked a judge to block a subpoena for his testimony before a grand jury investigating the insurrection and Trump's efforts to upend the election result. But at the dinner, he disparaged ongoing attempts, chiefly by conservative lawmakers and Fox News commentators, to downplay the rampage at the Capitol in which more than 1,000 Trump supporters have been arrested and about half, so far, convicted of an array of offenses.
"Tourists don't injure 140 police officers by sightseeing," Pence said. "Tourists don't break down doors to get to the speaker of the House or voice threats against public officials."
"Make no mistake about it. What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way," Pence said at the dinner.
Pence also said people "have a right to know what took place" during the insurrection, praising journalists' role in writing about the rampage, which for hours delayed lawmakers from certification of the Electoral College vote count showing Biden had won the election. In the United States, the president and vice president, running on the same ticket, are not elected by the national popular vote, but rather by state-by-state elections, with the biggest states holding the most Electoral College votes.
Trump had privately and publicly demanded that Pence block the outcome as the then-vice president presided over the vote count. Pence refused, saying his role was merely ceremonial.
Some rioters shouted, "Hang Mike Pence!" and protesters had erected a gallows on the National Mall within eyesight of the Capitol. As the rioters rampaged through the Capitol, security officials scrambled to keep Pence and his family safe, sheltering them at a loading dock inside the Capitol.
Meanwhile, officials in the White House that day say Trump watched the riot unfold on television and only after three hours issued a statement calling for his supporters to leave the Capitol. Officials have testified that Trump disparaged Pence for being weak in failing to block the election outcome and deserved to be hanged.
The annual white-tie Gridiron dinner features comedy routines by journalists poking fun at Washington officialdom and both Republican and Democratic officials making light of each other.
Even before turning serious about the riot at the Capitol more than two year ago, Pence, a devout Christian, jabbed at Trump.
"I once invited President Trump to Bible study," Pence said early in his speech. "He really liked the passages about the smiting and perishing of thine enemies. As he put it, 'You know, Mike, There's some really good stuff in here.'"
Trump has announced his 2024 presidential candidacy and Pence has said he is weighing a run as well. Some Republicans have suggested or declared they won't again support Trump, who is facing several criminal investigations, if he is the nominee.
Pence joked, "I will wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for president in 2024. If it's me."