Pence denounces Trump over Jan. 6 and Trump slams his standing in the polls

"History will hold Donald Trump accountable," the former vice president said.

March 16, 2023, 8:48 PM

Former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump have in recent days exchanged sharp words over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, escalating a conflict between the two erstwhile partners.

Pence, speaking Saturday at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, denounced his former boss over the insurrection, according to accounts from reporters in the room.

"History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6," said Pence, who has been considering running against Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. "Make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way. President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day."

"Tourists don't injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing," Pence said, referencing how some other conservatives have sought to play down the rioters' actions. "Tourists don't break down doors to get to the speaker of the House. Tourists don't threaten public officials."

Pence offered praise for the journalists in the audience -- while acknowledging he felt they could be aggravating -- and handed a compliment to a group Trump has lambasted as the "enemy of the people."

"We were able to stay at our post in part because you stayed at your post," he said of the reporters in the Capitol during the attack two years ago. "The American people know what happened that day because you never stopped reporting."

Pence previously faulted Trump for his part in Jan. 6 by suggesting Trump's calls for the overturning of the 2020 presidential election helped spur the violence, and his comments on Saturday were also blunt. That reportedly prompted a rebuke from Trump, who has long denied wrongdoing.

"I heard his statement, and I guess he decided that being nice isn't working because he's at 3% in the polls, so he figured he might as well not be nice any longer," Trump told a small group of media aboard his plane on Monday.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on Aug. 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas, and Mike Pence is seen at Fox News Channel Studios, Feb. 22, 2023 in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on Aug. 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas, and Mike Pence is seen at Fox News Channel Studios, Feb. 22, 2023 in New York City.
Brandon Bell and Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images, FILE

Trump said Pence shared the "blame" on Jan. 6 for not rejecting some of the 2020 electors won by Joe Biden -- something Pence didn't have the power to do.

"Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, No. 1, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn't have had 'Jan. 6' as we call it," Trump said.

Still, Trump said of Pence, "He's trying very hard. And he's a nice man, I've known him, I had a very good relationship until the end."

Pence has been traveling to states that host early presidential nominating contests and has been vague on whether he'd back Trump in 2024 if Trump won the primary, telling ABC News' David Muir in November that he thinks there will be "better choices."

Quotes from the Gridiron Dinner, a white-tie event for politicos and top Washington journalists, trickled out over Twitter and via news articles. However, coverage of it was partially stifled by virtue of there being no cameras in the venue to shoot video of Pence's remarks.

But his subsequent travel, including to New Hampshire on Thursday and Iowa on Saturday, had far more extensive media coverage -- especially amid his continued break with Trump.

In a sit-down Wednesday with the radio show "New Hampshire Today" with Chris Ryan, Pence suggested his Gridiron comments on Jan. 6 didn't show a larger political disagreement with Trump.

"Whatever differences the president and I had around that tragic day, the policies of the Trump-Pence administration are just what we have to get this country back," he said.

When Ryan read for Pence some of Trump's response to his Gridiron remarks, including when Trump again said Pence could have acted differently in counting the electors, Pence said that would have been impossible.

"I'm very content that history will judge our actions as having been consistent with the Constitution of the United States … But I will tell you my focus is on the future," he said.

ABC News' Brittany Shepherd contributed to this report.