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‘They probably would have killed him’: Jan. 6 hearing to show Trump put Pence in danger

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‘They probably would have killed him’: Jan. 6 hearing to show Trump put Pence in danger

WASHINGTON — 

When the House committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021, meets Thursday, the highest-ranking member of House leadership serving on the panel will be in an unusual position: praising a leader of the opposing party.

The hearing will focus on the intense pressure then-President Trump and conservative lawyer John Eastman put on then-Vice President Mike Pence to either reject certain states’ electoral college votes or delay Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“Mike Pence did his job,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) told The Times. “He did his job throughout. He didn’t waver in his reading of the Constitution. Even after all of that, the president of the United States still used every method to call him names, to call him out, and to summon a mob to get him.”

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With the help of committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the four-term California congressman will take the lead in laying out the panel’s case Thursday, arguing that it would have been disastrous for the country if Pence hadn’t adhered to the vice president’s largely ceremonial role in counting the votes, and had instead embraced Trump’s theory that he could be an arbiter of whether states’ votes were acceptable.

“If the vice president would have succumbed to pressure, or if the vice president would say that he or she was more loyal to the president than the Constitution, we would have had a constitutional crisis that would have threatened the republic,” Aguilar said.

Then-President Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence at a news conference in 2020.

Then-President Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence at a news conference in 2020.

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Aguilar said he sees the value of having someone in a political leadership position make the argument.

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“It’s important as a partisan to say that the vice president did his job,” he said.

The committee’s mandate from the House includes proposing potential legislation, such as more clearly defining or limiting the vice president’s role, he said, “but this story is also that some people did the right thing in the moment of time that we needed them.”

Depositions already released by the committee show that Trump tried to persuade Pence to intervene in the presidential election in private Oval Office meetings on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 and in a call the morning of Jan. 6. The pressure campaign continued in public, with Trump lambasting Pence in his Jan. 6 speech ahead of the attack on the Capitol and tweeting to supporters during the riot that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

“What the former president was willing to sacrifice — potentially the vice president — in order to stay in power is pretty jarring,” Aguilar said.

He said the committee had overlaid the route along which Pence was evacuated with a second-by-second timeline of where the rioters were in the building.

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“How many paces they were apart is very small,” Aguilar said.

Most alarming to him, he said, is a clip the panel will show Thursday from a rioter who is cooperating with the Justice Department.

“We’ll hear from a witness who says that, if they would have found [Pence], they probably would have killed him,” Aguilar said.

Greg Jacob, who as Pence’s chief counsel was present as Eastman and Trump pushed the vice president to intervene, is among the witnesses scheduled to testify Thursday. Jacob was also with Pence inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, arguing with Eastman by email during the riot over who was to blame for the violence.

Several lawmakers speaking in a room offstage before a news conference

Rep. Pete Aguilar, standing at left, speaks with fellow Democrats last week.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

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“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened,” Eastman said in an email to Jacob.

After the riot ended, Eastman again emailed Jacob to say that the vice president still should send the election back to the states rather than certifying it, based on what he called a “relatively minor violation” of the procedural law.

Aguilar said the committee also expects to use clips from the deposition of former Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short, who was also in the Eastman meetings, as well as depositions of people within the White House who discussed which members of Congress were involved in Trump’s efforts.

“You’ll also hear other people who worked inside the White House who can speak to the evolution of this conspiracy theory idea that Professor Eastman ended up advocating,” Aguilar said.

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Eastman, a former Chapman University professor, was the architect of the theory that Pence could either reject states’ electoral college votes due to allegations of fraud, an act that would have left deciding the next president up to state delegations in the House, or send results back to the states to have their legislatures examine the results and decide whether they should be changed.

“What’s important to know is this only became a real strategy after they lose 60-plus court cases,” Aguilar said. “This became the last-ditch effort.”

People attend a

People attend a Stop the Steal rally in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, the day before the insurrection.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Aguilar said the “politically palatable” plan was to send results back to the states, but “ultimately, what they wanted to do was to have the vice president outright reject electors, depriving the president-elect of the 270 electors that would be needed, thus triggering the states or Congress voting by state.”

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The House picks the president if no presidential candidate receives the required 270 votes in the electoral college, with each state getting a single vote. At the time, Republicans controlled a majority of state delegations even though Democrats controlled the House.

“President [Trump] woke up on Jan. 6 feeling that he still had a path to be president by the end of the day and past Jan. 20,” Aguilar said.

The committee has been in a legal fight with Eastman for months over whether his former employer, Chapman University, can turn over to the committee the contents of his university email account. Eastman claimed attorney-client privilege over some of the documents, prompting a judge to review the contested emails.

In his initial order requiring Eastman to hand over emails sent between Jan. 3 and Jan. 7, 2021, Judge David O. Carter found that the emails showed that the plan they were trying to get Pence to implement was obviously illegal and that Trump and Eastman “more likely than not” conspired to obstruct Congress on Jan. 6.

Carter reviewed hundreds more emails sent or received by Eastman in the months before Jan. 6, and recently ordered him to hand over an additional 159 challenged documents by this week, including some from Trump.

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Four members of the House Jan. 6 committee listening during a hearing.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, second from left, is prepared to incorporate an expected trove of conservative lawyer John Eastman’s emails in Thursday’s hearing on the Jan. 6 attack.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Aguilar said in an interview that the committee is preparing for the contingency that the new trove of emails will be useful to Thursday’s hearing.

“If they’re relevant to our hearing, we will include them. We will have time to triage and read and analyze,” he said. “We will adapt.”

The panel also plans to hear in-person testimony from federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, who was nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush. Pence relied on Luttig’s stance disputing Eastman’s assertions about the vice president’s power when he announced on Jan. 6 that he did not believe he had the power to reject votes or delay the count.

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Eastman once clerked for Luttig.

Aguilar said Luttig would be able to speak to the widely accepted interpretation of the role of Congress and the vice president under the Electoral Count Act of 1877 and the 12th Amendment, and on the deficiencies in the law that Congress might need to address.

After Thursday’s hearing, the committee plans just two more, on June 21 and June 23, with each led by a different committee member.

Like most of the committee members, Aguilar was on the House floor Jan. 6. He believes he was prepared to turn to investigating what happened in a way that others perhaps weren’t because of his experience in the aftermath of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, which occurred in his district less than a year into his first term.

“I think it prepared me in a sense to be able to have these conversations and to be able to kind of step up in this moment, to try to help and shine a light on something that needs to be discussed,” he said. “They’re very different experiences. But Jan. 6 is informed by what my community went through, what I went through with them as their friend and spokesperson, with the Dec. 2 shooting in San Bernardino.”

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A man standing by as another man speaks during a news conference.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, left, believes the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, in his district, helped prepare him to investigate the Jan. 6 attack.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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UNITED NATIONS — Donors pledged about $160 million for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.

“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”

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UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.

Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.

In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

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Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”

Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.

Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3% of the agency’s income.

Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.

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“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.

Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s U.N. Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of U.N. values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with U.N. policies.”

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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MEXICO CITY — A woman mountain climber in Mexico died and a climbing companion was injured when they scaled the highly active, off-limits peak of the Popocatepetl volcano.

Mexico’s volunteer Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade confirmed Friday that the climbers fell into a gully about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the volcano’s crater, suggesting they had reached the crater or near it.

The crater of the 17,797-foot (5,426-meter) tall volcano has been belching toxic fumes, ash, and lumps of incandescent rock persistently for almost 30 years.

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Civil defense authorities have strictly prohibited climbers from going within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of the peak since it began erupting again in 1994.

Valentín Martínez Castillo, the mayor of the nearby town of Ozumba, identified the dead woman as a 22-year-old resident of the town.

Martínez Castillo wrote in his social media accounts that the climbers fell about 150 feet (50 meters) down a gully, and that the woman’s body and the surviving climbers had been successfully removed from the peak.

The Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade posted a notice on their social media Friday reading: “She shouldn’t have died. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. The Popocatepetl volcano is closed.”

The country’s National Disaster Prevention Center said it “calls on people not to go near the volcano, especially the crater, due to the risk of falling ballistic fragments.”

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Popocatepetl is located 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, and occasionally showers ash on surrounding towns and some parts of the capital.

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

Former President Clinton is slamming the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying it contributes to putting “democracy at risk” and calling the high court “radical” and “activist.”

“This decision puts partisanship ahead of precedent, ideology ahead of evidence, and the power of a small minority ahead of the clear will of the people,” Clinton said in a statement on Friday.

“This jarring removal of rights that had long been guaranteed, along with decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act and abolishing any judicial remedy for admittedly unconstitutional gerrymandering by state legislatures and abuses of power by federal authorities, has put our democracy at risk in the hands of a radical, activist Court,” he added.

He said said voters should be electing people “who will defend, not deny, our cherished rights and liberties” in addition to confirming judges who put the importance of the Constitution over partisanship.

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His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a step backward for women’s rights and human rights.”

The development comes as the high court ruled on Friday to eliminate federal-level abortion protections, which many anticipated after a leaked draft ruling last month. 

Several states, including Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky, have now effectively banned abortion. More are expected to follow.

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