Mike Pence has called on the Justice Department to not prosecute Donald Trump for his handling of classified documents but refused to say he would pardon the former president if he won the White House.
The former vice president told a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, that he viewed the handling of classified material as “a very serious matter” but told host Dana Bash that federal prosecutors should leave Mr Trump alone.
“I would hope not, I really would,” he said when asked if the DoJ special counsel Jack Smith should indict Mr Trump over the documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
“I think it would be terribly divisive to the country at a time when the American people are hurting. This kind of action by the DoJ would only fuel further division in the country and send a terrible message to the wider world … I hope the DoJ thinks better of it and resolves this in a better way than an indictment,” he continued.
Despite that, Mr Pence told the audience that “no one is above the law”, and also admitted that he himself had no business having some classified documents at his home in Indiana.
“I took full responsibility for it. I would hope there would be a way to move forward without the dramatic, drastic steps of indicting a former president of the United States.”
Bash then directly asked Mr Pence, who earlier in the day officially launched his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, if as president he would pardon Mr Trump if he was convicted.
“I don’t want to speak about hypotheticals. I am not sure I am going to be elected president of the United States but I believe we have a fighting chance,” he said.
Mr Pence was also asked to respond to Mr Trump’s claim he would pardon anyone convicted of taking part in the violent January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, some of whom had called for him to be hanged.
“You know on January 6 I issued a tweet demanding that people leave the Capitol and end the violence and said those who didn’t should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and I believe that today,” he said.
“We cannot ever allow what happened on January 6 to ever happen again. I have no interest or intention of pardoning those who assaulted police officers or vandalized the capitol.”
Mr Pence, who called January 6 a “tragic day” for the country, was also asked about refusing to accede to Mr Trump’s demands to not certify Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
“I will always believe that by God’s grace, I did my duty that day to support and defended the Constitution of the United States,” he said.
“I want the American people to know that I believe with all my heart we did our duty that day. I know the disappointment of the 2020 election - I was on the ballot - but at the end of the day the Republican party has to be the party of the Constitution.”
And he added: “He (Trump) was asking me to choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will. I hoped that the president would come around in the years since to see that we had done our duty..but it is not to be.
“I said today the president was wrong then and is wrong now…I will always stand on the Constitution of the United States of America.