Pence says 'crackpot lawyers' told Trump what he wanted to hear
He also didn't rule out testifying at Trump's future trial.
Pence, speaking at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, stressed that he "had hoped that this issue and the judgment of the president's actions that day would be left to the American people" rather than the legal system -- but he also offered some of his strongest condemnations yet of Trump's decisions around Jan. 6.
"Sadly, the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear," Pence said. "And while I made my case to him, with what I understood my oath of the Constitution to require, the president ultimately continued to demand that I choose him over the Constitution."
That Pence would not do, he said.
"I really do believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be President of the United States," he said. "And anyone who asks someone else to put themselves over the Constitution should never be President of the United States again."
Pence has emerged as a key figure in the Department of Justice's Jan. 6 investigation, and Trump's efforts to have Pence block the certification of their defeat in the 2020 election are a central part of the new charges against Trump, which he denies.
Pence's role as vice president is mentioned in the indictment more than 100 times.
Since leaving office, Pence has become increasingly critical of Trump in one respect: Trump's insistence that Pence had the authority to reject the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress in 2021.
"Our founders had just won a war against a king, and the last thing they would have done was this unilateral authority and any one person to decide who would be the next president. I dismissed it out of hand," he said at the fair.
"So in this moment, irrespective of how this case plays out, I want the American people to know that I believe with all my heart, by God's grace, I did my duty on that day," Pence went on to say. "And as I stand for the Republican nomination for president, I want you to know ... I'll always stand on the Constitution of the United States. Our country is more important than any one man. Our Constitution is more important than any one man."
"What the president maintained that day and, frankly, has said over and over again over the last two and a half years is completely false," Pence said.
Speaking to reporters while campaigning at the fair, he said he would not comment on the merits of the indictment, which was unveiled on Tuesday and charges Trump with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights.
But on Wednesday Pence did reaffirm where he stood on Jan. 6.
"It will be up to the government now to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this actually represented criminal activity," he said.
Asked what he had learned after reading through the indictment's 45 pages, Pence pointed to it laying out how Trump and his allies allegedly recruited a slate of fake electors in seven battleground states to sign certificates falsely stating Trump had won when he hadn't.
"I didn't know anything about the effort ... I learned that after the fact," Pence said.
He separately defended his support for the objections that were raised by Republican lawmakers during the counting of the presidential electors on Jan. 6, 2021.
"As I said that day, I had concerns about voting irregularities that had taken place in states around the country," he said -- though no such alleged irregularities have ever been confirmed in any amount to change the 2020 results.
"I was fully prepared to make sure that we heard all the arguments and concerns that members of Congress had brought, but ... the violence that ensued eclipsed all of that, and I am glad to know that states around the country have been strengthening election integrity laws," Pence went on to say, "and I'll continue to do everything I can to strengthen the confidence in the American people and the integrity of our elections."
When asked if he'd testify at Trump's future criminal trial, Pence didn't rule it out.
He noted that he ultimately had to sit before the special counsel's investigation after Trump sought to prevent him from speaking, claiming executive privilege, and after Pence's own attorneys mounted a legal challenge contending his dues as president of the Senate should exempt him from some questions.
"Well, I testified under a subpoena before the grand jury. I'm somebody that believes in the rule of law, but look, I have nothing to hide," Pence said.
While he argued Trump was wrong to ask him to overturn the election, he said he didn't want to see criminal charges brought because he believes "this is only going to further ignite the divide in the country."
"And so my focus is going to be not on the indictment or the merits of it. The president can make his case for it. But I'm going to make it clear to the American people, as I seek the Republican nomination, that despite what Donald Trump has said over the last two and a half years, that I had no right to overturn the election," he said.
Pence was welcomed to his home state on Wednesday to talk about "kitchen table" issues at the Indiana State Fair, where he walked through his plan to fight inflation if he is elected president.
"I believe different times call for different leadership. I believe the time has come for new leadership in the Republican Party and new leadership in the White House," Pence told fair attendees. "And I'm gonna work every day to continue to make Indiana proud."
The former vice president first commented on the indictment in a statement on Tuesday, where he also said, "Today's indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States."
He wrote that Trump is entitled to a presumption of innocence but argued "his candidacy means more talk about January 6th and more distractions."
As Pence takes on his former running mate more directly, he appears to be gaining some financial momentum.
In a call with donors later Wednesday, Pence's campaign manager, Steve DeMaura, said Pence has surpassed 30,000 unique donors, is averaging more than 1,000 new donors a day and is on track to qualify for the first primary debate, on Aug. 23, as early as next week.
"By our lights, we think maybe the next seven to 10 days, we'll lock it down," Pence said on the call.