Mike Pence's 'This Week' interview: Full transcript

The former vice president talked about Trump, Ukraine and more.

ByABC News
March 19, 2023, 9:19 AM

ABC's "This Week" aired Mike Pence's interview with co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday. Below is their complete conversation. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

JONATHAN KARL, "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR: Mr. Vice President, thank you for taking the time to talk to us here in Iowa.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you Jon, good to be with you.

KARL: As -- as I'm sure you've seen, Donald Trump is saying that he's going to be indicted on Tuesday, he's calling for people to protest, now we -- we don't know if that's true, the Manhattan D.A. has not said anything about it, but he's calling for people to protest. Is that irresponsible?

PENCE: Well first let me say, I'm taken aback at the idea of indicting a former president of the United States, at a time when there's a crime wave in New York City, that -- the fact that the Manhattan D.A. thinks that indicting President Trump is his top priority, I think is, just tells you everything you need to know about the radical left in this country. It's a -- the last five years Democrats have been dismantling tough criminal justice in the city of New York. Families are paying the price and yet this is what we get.

It just feels like a politically charged prosecution here. And I, for my part, I just feel like it's just not what the American people want to see. We got real challenges in this country today, Jon. People are facing record inflation, a crisis at our border. We have war in Eastern Europe, the American people are anxious about the future and here we go again, back into another politically charged prosecution directed at the former president of the United States, and I would just hope for better.

KARL: But he's calling on people to protest, to come out and protest, "take our nation back." We know what happened the last time he said that.

PENCE: Well Jon, the American people have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble -- and express their …

KARL: Absolutely, but to have a former president calling on people to protest a -- a -- a -- a justice proceeding.

PENCE: The frustration the American people feel about what they sense is a two-tiered justice system in this country, I think -- I think is well founded but -- I -- and -- I believe that people understand that if they give voice to this, if this occurs on Tuesday, that they need to do so peacefully and in a lawful manner. That the violence that occurred on Jan. 6, the violence that occurred in cities throughout this country in the summer of 2020, was a disgrace. The American people won't tolerate it and those that engage in that kind of violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

KARL: But you say he's a former president possibly about to be indicted and it's unprecedented. Aren't his actions unprecedented? I mean we never saw a presidential candidate give $130,000 to a porn star to keep her from -- from talking. I mean, these are unprecedented actions.

PENCE: Well Jon, I -- as you know, those -- those events transpired before I even joined the national ticket and so I can't -- I can't speak to the merits of the case.

KARL: Well, the payoff happened just two weeks before the election.

PENCE: But I can't speak to the merits of the case and in America, you're innocent until proven guilty. That's not always true in the national media, but it is true in our justice system. And look, I know that President Trump can take care of himself and -- and this process will play out, if in fact an indictment comes down. But I just have to tell you that the politicization that we see in the Justice Department, the fact that in New York, the attorney general and other Democrats running for office in criminal justice system, actually ran on a promise to get Donald Trump, I think, is deeply troubling to millions of Americans who want to see the equal treatment before the law.

KARL: Do you think people should be out protesting that? Do you think they should be protesting the courthouse? Do you think --

PENCE: Look, Jon, I think the American people have a right to let their voice be heard. But I am hoping and confident that people that may give voice to their frustration this week and in the days ahead will do so in the best American tradition, and that is peacefully, and use their First Amendment rights in the way that we all respect.

KARL: What do you think of Kevin McCarthy, Speaker McCarthy, coming out and denouncing this and saying that there's gonna be a congressional investigation into -- into all of this. Do you want federal interference into what is done by a Manhattan D.A. or any district attorney?

PENCE: Jon, I gotta tell you, as I travel around the country, people are very concerned about the politicization that we've seen at the Justice Department. During the Trump-Pence administration, we saw FBI's -- agents that were falsifying documents to obtain search warrants, we found about politics driving decision at -- at the highest level. And again, in NYC I have to -- look no one's above the law, but when you have the attorney general campaign on a promise to get a particular American indicted, and you have other Democrat officials that pledge the same, this is not equal justice before the law. This -- this looks like the criminalization of politics and the American people aren't having it. And frankly --

KARL: But he would have the right to defend himself and to be heard by a jury of his peers, etc., etc. I mean don't you have faith in that system? Whatever you may think about the prosecution, he's got a chance to defend himself.

PENCE: I have -- I have no doubt that President Trump knows how to take care of himself. And he will. But that doesn't make it right to have a politically charged prosecution of a former president of the United States of America. I mean, look, we live in a very divided time in this country and for prosecutors to bring a case on -- on this matter at a time that we ought to be healing our country. We ought to be finding ways to bring Americans together. We're facing real challenges in this country. I mean -- I mean literally, I was in New Hampshire not long ago and a guy running a restaurant said to me that eggs had gone from a nickel to 30 cents a piece, and he's struggling to keep people on the payroll at his restaurant. I mean, you got families that are facing high gasoline prices. You got a crisis at our border. It's not just 5 million people coming into America, but also Jon you've got an avalanche of fentanyl that is claiming lives in every big city and small town in this country.

The American people want to see leaders in Washington who will focus on the issues they care about, they're concerned about and -- and to see that what appears to be a politically motivated prosecution, that I know many in the national media will spend all their time talking about, I don't believe that's what the American people want our leaders in Washington focused on and -- and it's not what I'm gonna focus on as well.

KARL: I want to ask you about your recent remarks about Donald Trump and -- and Jan. 6, you said that history will hold Donald Trump accountable. How?

PENCE: Well, we all face the judgment of history and I believe in the fullness of time that, that history will hold Donald Trump accountable for the events of Jan. 6, as it will other people that were involved.

KARL: In what ways? What will history say about his actions?

PENCE: Well it will be the judgment of history, I truly believe it. And I also think the American people will also have their say. I mean the president is now a candidate for office again, he's running for election but as I go around the country, I'm, I'm convinced the American people have learned the lessons of that day. They've internalized what they have learned over the last two years, including in much of your good work on this topic. They know what happened. They know the fact that the president's reckless words endangered people at the Capitol that day, including me and my family, and I believe they'll, they'll factor all of that in as they make decisions going forward in this country, but -- again, I, I honestly can tell you that I just think that the American people want leaders in Washington. They want voices in the national debate that are focused on the issues that are affecting their lives. They'll make their own judgment about what happened on Jan. 6. They'll make their own judgment about this administration and its failures at home and abroad. And I think ultimately history, history will hold Donald Trump accountable for that day.

KARL: Trump actually said in response to what you said recently about Jan. 6, that it was your fault. That if you had done what he was asking you to do, throwing out those electoral votes, you wouldn't have had a Jan. 6 as we know it. That's what he said. What do you make of that? It was your fault. That you were to blame.

PENCE: Well I know one of the, one of the attorneys that was advising the president said the same thing in a text on January the sixth but his attorneys were wrong and –

KARL: John Eastman.

PENCE: President Trump is wrong. I know by God's grace, we did our duty that day, to act out the express language of the Constitution of the United States. States control elections. Once states send electoral votes to the Congress, the only role that the Congress has is to open and count -- they can consider objections, which Democrats brought in the last three elections that Republicans prevailed. They can consider [objections] but at the end of the day, the job of the Congress is to open and count electoral votes certified by the states -- no more, no less. We did our duty that day to ensure the peaceful transfer of power under the Constitution of the United States.

KARL: I mean he says, "In many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6." I mean you were the one that had to be evacuated. That, that, that was facing calls for people who, who were saying that they wanted to hang you. And he's saying, "in many ways you can blame him," blame you for Jan. 6.

PENCE: Well, it's one of the reasons why despite the fact that the president and I actually parted amicably when we left the White House on Jan. 20 [2021]. And spoke several times in the weeks that followed that. After I saw him return to that type of rhetoric in the spring of 2021, we've, we've just gone our separate ways. I know we did our duty that day. I know the president continues to have a strong difference of opinion about my responsibilities that day, but I, I, I trust my actions to the judgment of history and the judgment of the American people -- I think -- the people of this country love our Constitution and, and they want to see elected officials, uphold the Constitution and stand on that foundation and … whatever the future holds for me and my little family we'll always aspire to do just that.

KARL: I want to play you something … and if you have the video here. I want to play you something Donald Trump said to me when I asked him if he was concerned about your safety on that day. This is a -- asked directly about …

(BEGIN AUDIO - MARCH 18, 2021)

KARL: Were you worried about him during that siege? Were you worried about his safety?

FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I thought he was well-protected, and I had heard that he was in good shape … No, because, uh, I had heard he was in very good shape. But, but -- no, I think --

KARL: Because you heard those chants, that was terrible. I mean, you know, those --

TRUMP: He could have -- well, the people were very angry.

KARL: They were saying hang Mike Pence.

TRUMP: Because it's -- it's commonsense, Jon, it's commonsense, that you're supposed to protect. How can you -- if you know a vote is fraudulent, right, how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress?


KARL: I mean, he's effectively justifying or excusing the actions of people who were, who were calling for you to be hanged.

PENCE: There was no excuse for the violence that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and I'll never diminish it as long as I live. But look I -- the president's wrong. He was wrong that day and … I had actually hoped that he would come around in time, Jon, that he would see that the cadre of legal advisers that he surrounded himself with had led him astray. But he hasn't done so and it's, I think it's one of the reasons why the country just wants a fresh start. Our duty is to the Constitution of the United States. Now there were irregularities in that election -- they were reviewed by the courts around the country. States had changed the rules in the election in the name of COVID. And I thought it was—

KARL: But -- but you don't think the election was stolen I mean you, you've said that–

PENCE: Look, I think it was worthwhile that the Congress debate the objections and consider the facts and then move forward with the peaceful transfer of power all under the Constitution and, and the laws of this country but … at the end of the day, I'll let history be the judge, the American people be the judge and I'll always know we did our duty that day.

KARL: But does saying -- justifying those murderous chants -- does way he's talked about it since. Does that effectively disqualify him from being commander in chief again? What do you think about -- that you'd have somebody that would again, justify those chants back in a position of authority.

PENCE: I think that's a judgment for the American people.

KARL: What's your judgment about it?

PENCE: And I'm confident they'll make it. Well, look, I will be honest with you. I was angry that day. And while I believe in forgiveness, I've been working hard at that for a while. The president let me down that day. He let the country down that day. But thanks to the courage of law enforcement, the riot was quelled. We reconvened the Congress, the very same day and a day of tragedy became a triumph of freedom. And I'll always be proud of our small part in that, but be honest with you the emotions of that day, the emotion since, I just haven't had time for it. To me, there's just too many issues that we're facing this country today under the failed policies of this administration that I don't have a lot of time for looking backwards.

KARL: Could you ever–

PENCE: –I'm looking forward and uh focused on whatever role we might play in helping to turn this country around.

KARL: Could you ever support him again for president?

PENCE: I think that's yet to be seen, Jon. I must tell you that I think we'll have better choices. We're going to decide as a family whether we offer ourselves as one of them but I think different times call for different leadership. I think the American people long for leadership at the highest level that's focused on the issues that are affecting their lives. And also, I think they longed for leadership that will keep faith with our highest traditions, including the foundation of the Constitution of the United States.

KARL: You had said back in September of 2020, that President Trump "he's a man of his word." You still believe that—?

MP: I'm very proud of the record of the Trump Pence administration.

KARL: But is he a man of his word?

PENCE: On one issue after another, we kept our word to the American people. Whether it be rebuilding the military, cutting taxes, unleashing American energy, securing the border, appointing conservative judges, putting pro-life judges to the Supreme Court that gave us a new beginning for life. One issue after another, I saw the president keep the word that he made to the American people and I was, I was proud those four years to stand with him. And I know that grates on some people in the national media, Jon. As I wrote in my book, I'm incredibly proud of the record of our administration. It didn't end well, ended in controversy, but those four years we saw America through that pandemic, we we led our nation to greater prosperity and security in those first three years than anytime in my lifetime. And I'll always be proud of the record of the Trump Pence administration.

KARL: I'm not asking you about the record. I'm asking you about the man. I mean, you had said another time, "I always tell people to know President Trump is to know someone whose word is his bond." I mean, this is somebody that, as you acknowledged in your book, lied to the American people about what you had told him about Jan. 6, that you couldn't do it. And he put out a statement saying you were in complete agreement with him -- I mean that's just one of many, many, many examples. You don't still think that to know President Trump is to know that his word is his bond, again, not the record of the administration, Donald Trump, the man.

PENCE: I said that at that time and I meant it. I was deeply disappointed with the president's words and conduct in the days leading up to Jan. 6, and on Jan. 6.

KARL: And since right? And since?


PENCE: Yes, you know, but but, you know, as I wrote in my book, the next day when the president committed to a peaceful transfer of power when he condemned the violence at the Capitol. I thought we were back on track and in the week that followed we would we spoke, I was very direct with him about my experience, and my view of it, and my belief that I'd done my duty, and we parted amicably and respectfully, but in the months that followed, he returned to that that same rhetoric he was using before Jan. 6, rhetoric that continues much up to this day and and that's why we've gone our separate ways. And I continue to, I continue to be disappointed in the fact that the president has not seen his way clear to know that by God's grace, we did our duty that day.

KARL: Can you can you clarify your position on testifying to the special counsel? I know that you've cited the speech and debate clause, you don't want to talk about your role in presiding over the Congress on that day, but my understanding of the subpoenas are 16 separate things that they want from you -- 16 different topic areas -- and only maybe the most two of them would directly be about you presiding over the joint session that day. So are you willing to testify about other matters?

PENCE: Well, Jon, as you know, I'm limited in what I can say about proceedings related to the grand jury, but just as I did on Jan. 6, when I upheld the Constitution of the United States, I think preserving the separation of powers, the speech and debate protections that legislators have, and that those operating in the legislative branch have, is enormously important to the life of the nation. We simply don't want an executive branch to be able to haul legislators into court every time that there's a policy dispute. And so I've directed my attorneys to make, uh make a strong case in defense of my role as president of the Senate, presiding over a joint session of Congress on that day and in the preparation for that, and we'll let the courts sort it out but I've actually never asserted that other matters unrelated to Jan. 6, would otherwise be protected by speech and debate. But I—

KARL: -So you may be willing to testify on other matters just not specifically your role–

PENCE: -I'm going to stand firm on the Constitution of the United States. We'll let the courts sort that out. And, but I'll [crosstalk] -- I'll obey the law

KARL: —Because I don't want to misinterpret your remarks. You are open to testifying on other matters?

PENCE: We're going to respect the decisions of the court and that may take us all the way to the highest court in the land. But I think this principle is an important one and I -- I hope that people will see that throughout my career I've been a constitutional conservative, someone who believes in the Constitution as written and believes that the separation of powers is just as important as the work that we did, ensuring the peaceful transfer of power. Look, this is the greatest nation in the history of the world. And I believe much of that greatness springs from the heart of the American people, the faith in the American people. But ultimately, it is that form of government enshrined in the Constitution of the United States that has made it possible for us to create this extraordinary United States of America and I'm gonna stand on that. And we're gonna make that case, but I promise you we'll respect the decisions of the court. But I'm going to stand firmly on the Constitution.

KARL: But it's not that you're objecting to talking about, for instance, the broader effort to overturn the election. That was one of the other items.

PENCE: As I've said, we're not asserting executive privilege, which may encompass other discussions. I believe the president may well have brought a claim for that. But I just believe that the work that I did preparing for and conducting on my role as president of the Senate is covered by the speech and debate clause. I believe we have the law on our side-

KARL: But the other issues

PENCE: But we'll wait and see on the court.

KARL: OK. OK. Thank you for clarifying that because I know that you think big picture. Nobody is above the law. You don't think Donald Trump is above the law?

PENCE: Nobody's above the law. But nobody's beneath the law either. And the American people are troubled after four years of our administration, seeing the politicization of the Justice Department, I strongly support the efforts in Congress to investigate the role that politics is playing in our justice system today. And this latest news of, of the Manhattan D.A. determined to apparently bring an indictment against a former president of the United States just feels like one more example of politics being in the lead in our justice system. And that's not what the American people want. We want equal justice before the law, and that's a principle I'll always stand on.

KARL: So let's turn to the next election -- you're here in Iowa. Are you running for president?

PENCE: Well, we're giving serious consideration to it, Jon, and we're getting a lot of encouragement, not only here in Iowa, but all across the country. When I, when I think of the blessings I've had in my life to serve in the Congress for 12 years, to serve as governor of Indiana and then as vice president of the United States and then I think of the magnitude of challenges facing this country at home and abroad under the failed record of the Biden administration, we're, we're giving, we're giving prayerful consideration to what role we might play, but I think now is the time for for all of us that care about this country to consider our part to play a part and to make sure that we elect leadership at every level that will turn this country around in 2024 and beyond.

KARL: You said previously that your decision would come by spring. I know it doesn't feel like spring out there. But Monday is officially the first day of spring. What's your, what's your timeline?

PENCE: Well, I can tell you we're getting closer. I've been spending time with our family, been listening to friends around the country. And I expect before too long we'll -- we'll know what our calling is. You know, Jon, it's always for our family, It's all about, It's all about what we feel called to do. I think there's two kinds of people in politics: people that are driven and people that are called. If you know my story, you'll know I've been both in my life, but the last 20 years we've just tried to respond to what we sense is a calling of the American people and a sense of God's calling in our life and we think we'll have a good sense of that in the near future and I promise to keep you posted.

KARL: On Ukraine, you've taken, you've staken out really I guess you'd call it a Reagan-esque position of defending Ukraine, standing up against Russian aggression, but I'm sure you heard Gov. DeSantis say that the war in Ukraine is a territorial dispute. You would disagree.

PENCE: The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It's a Russian invasion. It's just the latest instance of Russia attempting to redraw international lines by force, and the United States of America must continue at a quickened pace to provide the Ukrainian military the support that they need to repel the Russian invasion, and the stakes are that high. This is, this is a test of American leadership, And a test, frankly, of the free world. As the leader of the free world, as the arsenal of Democracy, America needs to continue to ensure that the Ukrainian military has what they need. Anybody that thinks that Vladimir Putin will stop if he overruns Ukraine has another thing coming, Jon. And there's no doubt in my mind, that the Baltics could be next. That what Putin is about, is reasserting that old Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. And the difference would be once he crosses into a NATO country we'll have no choice but to send American service members into harm's way. Now we can do as Ronald Reagan said we can, we can provide freedom fighters in their own countries, the resources to repel aggression there so that we don't have to fight 'em here with our own soldiers. And that's what we need to continue to do in Ukraine. I'll continue to be a voice for that.

KARL: So what do you make of DeSantis calling it a territorial dispute? Because that's virtually exactly what, how Putin describes it. And you said there's no place for Putin apologists in the Republican Party and why is DeSantis-

PENCE: -Well

KARL: -saying that-

PENCE: There, there are, there are voices in our party that don't see a vital American interest in Ukraine. But I see it differently. I truly do believe in that Reagan Doctrine that used to say back in the 1980s, that if you're willing to fight the communists there, we'll give you what you need, so we don't have to fight 'em here. That set into motion the policies that brought the collapse of the Soviet Union. We, we have Russian aggression on the move, again, just as they did under Obama and Crimea, as they did under President Bush in Georgia. And we have to meet this moment with American strength. And make no mistake about it: Not only is American strength and the strength of the free world required to restrain Russia's ambitions, but I think by standing strong with the Ukrainian people against Russia, we'll also send a very clear message to China about its ambitions in the Asia Pacific and make sure they understand that the free world is prepared to rally around places like Taiwan in the event that, that China decides to move with the kind of aggression that we've seen from the Russian military.

KARL: Chris Christie said that DeSantis was naive in thinking we could just walk away. Do you see it that way? Is it naive to think that the United States can disengage and let the Russians and Ukrainians fight it out?

PENCE: I -- I wouldn't want to characterize it any other way than saying it's wrong. The fact is, that, that Russia attempted to redraw international lines by force, under, under every administration in the 21st century except ours. And I think it was because we made historic investments in our military, we were willing to use force in Syria against the Bashar Assad's regime. We, we unleashed the American military to take down the ISIS caliphate that, the, Russia saw American strength during the Trump-Pence administration. And after that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, I can't help but believe that emboldened the enemies of freedom around the world. And so now more than ever, but we need to stand firm and let me say again, the Biden administration has to hasten and quicken the support that they're providing to the Ukrainians.

KARL: F-16s?

PENCE: This, this business of pledging 33 Abrams tanks in January and then saying they won't be there for a year and a half is unacceptable. We ought to provide the tanks, the missiles and the aircraft that the Ukrainian military can use to take the fight to the Russians. President Biden said in his State of the Union address that we're there as long as it takes. Well the American people know it shouldn't take that long. If we marshal the resources of the free world, the arsenal of democracy, give them what they need, they've demonstrated their courage, their tenacity and I believe the Ukrainians can repel that Russian invasion and reassert, reestablish peace in Eastern Europe.

KARL: Does President Biden deserve some credit, though, for keeping NATO together on this?

PENCE: Well, I think there's a lot of credit to go around with NATO. We called on NATO to make renewed investments in our common defense and before we left office, $150 billion in commitments from NATO countries for our common defense. NATO was stronger the day we left office than the day we came into office. But I want to say again, I think the fact that the Biden administration cut off military aid to Ukraine in the early days of their administration, and then has been slow in providing that military aid, needs to be called out. I do believe that it's imperative that we remain there. It's commendable that the United States has provided leadership in the free world to marshal support against the Russian invasion. But, but, my message to the Biden administration is, is, pick up the pace. Give them what they need to win this war and we'll, we'll make a contribution to peace in Eastern Europe and in the world.

KARL: We're just about out of time, but I also want to ask you about something. I want to ask you about what President Trump just said about, about Ukraine. He said that the war is a quote proxy battle between the United States and Russia, and he's calling for an immediate ceasefire. Which, effectively, I, would freeze Putin's gains in place, I suppose. I mean, what do you think about what President Trump is saying about Ukraine?

PENCE: Well, as I said, whether it's President Trump or others in our party around the country, there, there are those who see some choice before us, other than giving Ukraine the ability to fight and win against the Russian invasion. I believe it's imperative that we stand firm. That we continue to provide the Ukrainian military the resources that they need to repel the Russian invasion. And that will be the fastest way to secure peace and stability in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe.

KARL: Alright, Vice President Pence thank you for taking the time and I'll hold you to it, you'll let us know when you decide about running for president

PENCE: We sure will, Jon. Thank you.

KARL: Thank you. Take care, sir. Appreciate it.