The violent rioters who breached the Capitol were reportedly within a minute of reaching Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over a joint session of Congress in the Senate Chamber last Wednesday.
The rioters, some of whom openly expressed a desire to kill lawmakers, came dangerously close to top government officials, according to a Friday report from The Washington Post, which cited three sources who were aware of the vice president’s situation that day.
Catherine Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, assured the Post that despite the apparent close call, Pence was secure during the unprecedented security failure at the Capitol. “While the Secret Service does not speak specifically about the means and methods of our protective operations, Vice President Pence was secure at all times on Jan. 6,” Milhoan said.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has since tendered his resignation, told the Post last weekend that he realized “things aren’t going well” at 1 p.m., an hour after Congress convened. “I’m watching my people getting slammed,” he remembered.
By 1:59 p.m., according to Sund, rioters were attempting to break through into the Capitol, and by around 2:11 p.m, they succeeded. The Secret Service swept Pence off the Senate floor and into his adjoining office at 2:13 p.m., according to C-SPAN footage, and by 2:14 p.m., rioters had arrived on the landing right outside the Senate chamber.
Pence, who was sheltered in his office with his wife, daughter, and brother, Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN), at first refused entreaties from his Secret Service detail to evacuate the Capitol, but eventually they moved him, along with his family and some staffers, to an undisclosed location in the building. He remained there for the duration of the siege until the complex was declared secure around 8 p.m., after the National Guard, SWAT teams, and other law enforcement arrived.
Pence and his aides were reportedly miffed at Trump not only for his incendiary rhetoric toward the vice president, but also because he reportedly never checked in on him during the chaos. Afterwards, Trump and Pence did not speak for several days.
Trump had earlier claimed falsely that Pence had the authority to overturn Electoral College votes, and grew angry when he refused to do so. As The New York Times reported:
Mr. Trump was enraged that Mr. Pence was refusing to try to overturn the election. In a series of meetings, the president had pressed relentlessly, alternately cajoling and browbeating him. Finally, just before Mr. Pence headed to the Capitol to oversee the electoral vote count last Wednesday, Mr. Trump called the vice president’s residence to push one last time.
“You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Mr. Trump told him, according to two people briefed on the conversation, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”
The blowup between the nation’s two highest elected officials then played out in dramatic fashion as the president publicly excoriated the vice president at an incendiary rally and sent agitated supporters to the Capitol where they stormed the building — some of them chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”