Pence criticizes Trump and ‘crackpot lawyers’ at Indiana State Fair campaign stop

The former vice president’s remarks come one day after former president Donald Trump’s latest indictment.

By: - August 2, 2023 5:31 pm

Former vice president Mike Pence stumps at the Indiana State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Speaking at an Indianapolis campaign stop Wednesday, former Vice President Mike Pence further distanced himself from his previous boss, Donald Trump, as tensions continue to flare on the nomination trail.

Pence came to town to talk about the economy but Trump’s latest legal crisis pulled focus from that.

The former president was indicted on felony charges Tuesday for working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, just before the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pence, a 2024 presidential hopeful, issued a condemning statement in response to the federal conspiracy charges late Tuesday, saying Trump “should not be president of the United States.”

He built on those comments after speaking before a small crowd at the Indiana State Fair Wednesday.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I had hoped this issue and the judgment of the president’s actions that day would be left to the American people. Now it’s been brought in a criminal indictment,” Pence told reporters. “Sadly, the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear.”

Pence weighs in on Trump indictment

Pence additionally maintained that he had done his “duty” ahead of the Capitol riot, despite Trump’s “reckless assertion” that he could overturn election results. 

“Irrespective of the indictment, I want the American people to know that I had no right to overturn the election, and that on that day, President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution,” Pence continued. “But I chose the Constitution, and always will.”

Trump’s latest indictments — the third criminal case against the former president — outlines frantic efforts by him and his allies to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power. 

Irrespective of the indictment, I want the American people to know that I had no right to overturn the election, and that on that day, President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution.

– former Vice President Mike Pence

The indictment says Trump and his associates first tried to persuade state lawmakers to reject certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s win before then focusing on Jan. 6 and seeking “to enlist the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the certification to fraudulently alter the election results.”

That included an effort to persuade Pence to accept slates of fake electors in battleground states won by Biden to falsely claim that Trump had actually won them, or to reject states’ electoral votes and send them back to state legislatures for further review, the indictment says.

The indictment also outlines how Trump worked to falsely convince his supporters that Pence had the power to overturn the results. Federal prosecutors allege that prompted hundreds of Trump’s supporters to break through barricades and battle with police before breaking into the U.S. Capitol building.

A rocky road ahead?

Earlier Wednesday, while stumping from a barn in the Indiana State Fair’s Pioneer Village, Pence kept his remarks focused on the economy. He made no mention of Trump during the speech, however.

The former Indiana governor doubled down on “the impact inflation has had on American families,” and highlighted his four-step plan to reduce government spending and reform the Federal Reserve.

“I’m the first nominee to lay out a plan for inflation and get back to fiscal responsibility,” Pence said. “The economic policies of the Biden administration have literally turned the American dream into a pipe dream.”

“Inflation is a man-made problem and that man’s name is Joe Biden,” he continued. “We don’t have to live like this anymore.”

Former vice president Mike Pence meets with voters ahead of his speech at the Indiana State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

While Pence said during his speech that he believes it’s time for “new leadership in the Republican party,” he told reporters that he wants his campaign to center around issues he hears about from voters — like inflation — and not ongoing litigation over Jan. 6.

Pence formally announced his campaign in June and recently unveiled his economic plan. Before serving as vice president under President Trump, Pence spent a term as Indiana’s governor and also represented the Hoosier State in Congress.

He’s now among a crowded field of Republicans challenging Trump for the 2024 presidential nomination. Much of Pence’s campaign has so far been spent defending his decision to defy Trump after the 2020 election. 

The former vice president has repeatedly admonished Trump for “demanding I choose between him and our Constitution. Now, voters will be faced with the same choice.”

But so far, Pence has struggled to gain traction in his presidential campaign. 

Many Trump loyalists still blame Pence for the former president’s 2020 election loss, holding out that Pence should have used his role overseeing the counting of the Electoral College votes to prevent Biden from becoming president.

Other Pence critics fault him for being complicit in Trump’s most controversial actions over the course of his tenure. They criticize Pence, too, for only ceasing loyalty to his former boss amid the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Pence’s next hurdle on the path to nomination hinges on his ability to reach the donor threshold to qualify for the first GOP debate.

Pence has yet to meet the Republican National Committee’s 40,000-donor minimum, though he has reached the polling threshold needed to qualify for the GOP opening debate — which takes place in just three weeks.

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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