Former Vice President Mike Pence has been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to cling to office after he lost his bid for re-election, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
The move by the Justice Department sets up a likely clash over executive privilege, which Mr. Trump has previously used to try to slow, delay and block testimony from former administration officials in various investigations into his conduct.
The existence of the subpoena was reported earlier by ABC News.
It was not immediately clear when the special counsel, Jack Smith, sought Mr. Pence’s testimony. The move is among the most aggressive yet by Mr. Smith in his wide-ranging investigation into Mr. Trump’s role in seeking to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. He is also overseeing a parallel inquiry into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents.
The New York Times previously reported that the Justice Department was seeking to question Mr. Pence in connection with the investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to remain in power after he lost the 2020 election and had reached out to his team.
Mr. Pence is potentially a key witness because he is one of the people best positioned to provide information about Mr. Trump’s state of mind at the time, even though his relationship with Mr. Trump reached the breaking point in the days leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, legal experts said.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
- Timeline: On Jan. 6, 2021, 64 days after Election Day 2020, a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump raided the Capitol. Here is a close look at how the attack unfolded.
- A Day of Rage: Using thousands of videos and police radio communications, a Times investigation reconstructed in detail what happened — and why.
- Lost Lives: A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the attack.
- Jan. 6 Attendees: To many of those who attended the Trump rally but never breached the Capitol, that date wasn’t a dark day for the nation. It was a new start.
Mr. Pence’s team held discussions with the Justice Department about a voluntary interview, according to the person familiar with the matter, but those talks were at an impasse, leading Mr. Smith to seek the subpoena.
An aide to Mr. Pence declined to confirm the existence of the subpoena. A Justice Department official did not respond to a request for comment.
It is not clear whether investigators will also seek to question Mr. Pence in the matter of Mr. Trump’s handling of classified material, or what he could have to share that would be relevant. Mr. Pence’s advisers recently alerted the Justice Department that he had found some documents with classified markings at his home in Indiana, after conducting a search following the discovery of classified documents at President Biden’s home in Delaware and at a think tank office he used in Washington.
Justice Department officials have signaled that they plan a more thorough search of Mr. Pence’s home.
The subpoena from Mr. Smith comes at a moment of rising tension between the Pence team and the Justice Department over the discussions about searching the former vice president’s home.
Lawyers with the department’s national security division have been discussing the details of a possible agreement to search Mr. Pence’s house in Indiana for additional government documents on a parallel track; Mr. Pence’s advisers were incensed by the disclosure of a pending search last week and blamed the department for leaking details to pressure them.
Another former Trump administration official, the final national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, has received a subpoena in connection with the handling of the documents found to be in Mr. Trump’s possession, according to a person familiar with the matter.
But Mr. Pence figures most centrally in the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the government to remain in power. Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Pence’s ceremonial role in overseeing the congressional certification of the Electoral College results to try to press his vice president into blocking or delaying the outcome on Jan. 6.
Mr. Pence refused, a fact highlighted publicly by Mr. Trump as he stirred up a crowd of supporters that day before they marched to the Capitol and breached it. Some of the rioters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Mr. Pence described some of his ordeal in his recently published book, “So Help Me God.”
Mr. Trump has frequently tried to assert executive privilege when officials have sought testimony from people who worked for him in the White House. He has generally been unsuccessful, but those battles over which matters privilege covers have slowed some of the investigations.
That included when two top aides to Mr. Pence — his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and his former counsel, Greg Jacob — were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.
Mr. Pence is being represented by Emmet T. Flood, a veteran lawyer who was the lead official in the White House Counsel’s Office under Mr. Trump dealing with the special counsel investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with Russian officials, and whether the former president obstructed justice.
Mr. Pence is a potential rival to Mr. Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Trump is so far the only declared candidate in that race. And Mr. Biden, who is also the subject of a recently named special counsel looking into the documents found at his home and the Penn Biden Center, is widely expected to declare another presidential campaign for a second term.
Mr. Smith has vowed to expedite the investigation into Mr. Trump, and has moved to consolidate and focus what was seen inside the department as a sprawling inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and the Jan. 6 attack, according to people familiar with the situation.
That has intensified in recent weeks, as Mr. Smith’s staff — led by Thomas Windom, a veteran prosecutor who had been working out of the office of the U.S. attorney in Washington — has pored through hundreds of witness transcripts turned over by the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack.