Mike Pence has sudden change of heart over Trump classified documents: ‘I can’t defend it’

‘Having read the indictment, these are very serious allegations,’ Mr Pence told The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board on Tuesday

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 14 June 2023 13:33 BST
Trump's second arraignment: Watch how it happened

Mike Pence appears to have had a sudden change of heart over his thoughts on Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents.

After arguing that bringing federal criminal charges against the former president would send a “terrible message to the world” last week, the former vice president has now said that he “can’t defend” his ex-boss’s alleged actions laid out in the indictment.

“Having read the indictment, these are very serious allegations,” Mr Pence told The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board on Tuesday.

“And I can’t defend what is alleged.”

Mr Pence later added that, as a member of a military family, he was concerned about the risks to the lives of American service members when secret information is not handled correctly.

“Even the inadvertent release of that kind of information could compromise our national security and the safety of our armed forces,” he said.

“And, frankly, having two members of our immediate family serving in the armed forces of the United States, I will never diminish the importance of protecting our nation’s secrets.”

Mr Pence is now taking on his former boss in the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election, after launching his campaign last week.

His comments on Mr Trump’s indictment are a marked difference from the stance he took early last week where he told CNN he hoped the Justice Department would refrain from bringing charges.

“I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment,” he said.

“I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world.

“I mean, we’re the emblem of democracy. We’re the symbol of justice in the world.”

Though he insisted that no one should be “above the law”, he said he hoped “there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States”.

Mike Pence speaking at a GOP convention on 10 June
Mike Pence speaking at a GOP convention on 10 June (Getty Images)

While Mr Pence’s latest comments signaled a u-turn in his stance on the scandal, the former vice president and now 2024 presidential candidate did still question the Justice Department’s motives for the indictment.

“It’s hard for me to believe that politics didn’t play some role in this decision,” he said, adding that if he were to enter the White House next year he would “clean house” at the DOJ.

He added: “But the President is entitled to his day in court, he’s entitled to bring a defense, and I want to reserve judgment until he has the opportunity to respond.”

Mr Trump appeared for his arraignment in a Miami federal courthouse on Tuesday afternoon, where he became the first current or former US president ever charged with a federal crime.

He pleaded not guilty to all 37 federal charges over his handling of classified documents, including national defence information, after leaving the White House.

The indictment, which was unsealed on Friday (9 June), alleges that Mr Trump deliberately lied to and misled authorities so that he could hold onto documents that he knew were classified.

On at least two separate occasions, Mr Trump then showed some of the classified documents to people not authorised to see them, the indictment alleges.

Stunning photos revealed that many of the documents were stored around a toilet, shower and ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

The charges include 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information and single counts of false statements and representations, and counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document, concealing a document in a federal investigation and a scheme to conceal.

Caravan of Secret Service vehicles transports Donald Trump to and from his arraignment on 13 June
Caravan of Secret Service vehicles transports Donald Trump to and from his arraignment on 13 June (AP)

Mr Trump’s longtime aide Walt Nauta was also charged with six obstruction- and concealment-related charges after he allegedly helped move boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago to Mr Trump’s residence and then lied to investigators about having any knowledge of the handling of the papers.

Mr Nauta did not enter a plea as he did not have legal counsel in Florida.

The two men put on a united front traveling to and from the courthouse together, making a brief surprise stop afterwards at the famed Versailles restaurant in Miami where Mr Trump said he would buy everyone food and was treated to a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ by his fans.

Following his arraignment, Mr Trump – who turned 77 on Wednesday – flew straight back to New Jersey to deliver a speech at his Bedminster golf club, where he launched into his usual unsubstantiated narrative that he is the victim of political persecution.

In the speech, where he lashed out at President Joe Biden and Special Counsel Jack Smith, Mr Trump claimed that the boxes of classified documents discovered in his possession actually contained clothes.

“Many people have asked me why I had these boxes, why did you want them?” he said.

“The answer, in addition to having every right under the Presidential Records Act, is that these boxes were containing all types of personal belongings — many, many things, shirts and shoes, everything.”

He insisted he wanted to sort through the boxes but had been “busy” as he went on his usual unsubstantiated narrative that he is the victim of political persecution.

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