With Mike Pence's testimony, Jack Smith's Jan. 6 investigation of Donald Trump picks up steam

Jack Smith
Special counsel Jack Smith. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Former Vice President Mike Pence testified Thursday before the federal grand jury convened by special counsel Jack Smith to investigate former President Donald Trump's efforts to hold onto power by overturning the results of the 2020 election.

Pence's appearance comes as Smith is believed to be wrapping up his investigation and possibly preparing to indict Trump on charges that could include obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States and insurrection.

Prior to the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump pressured Pence to summarily reject the certification of the Electoral College vote tally showing that Joe Biden had won the election. Pence refused to comply, leading Trump to denounce him at a Washington rally prior to the riot. Trump's supporters then descended on the Capitol in an effort to disrupt the certification of the election, chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they ransacked the building and delayed the proceedings.

On Thursday, Pence testified under oath before the grand jury for roughly seven hours about his dealings with Trump following the 2020 election.

In a video statement posted the same day, Trump repeated himself in describing the man who might yet indict him as "a Trump-hating prosecutor, Jack Smith, he’s a Trump-hater. His wife’s a Trump-hater. His family is a Trump-hater. They all hate Trump. They hate him with a passion and they’ll do anything they can to hurt Trump.”

[Who is Jack Smith, the special counsel Garland appointed to investigate Trump?]

The former president, who has a healthy lead over his Republican challengers for the 2024 GOP primary, also misspoke about which election cycle he claimed Smith was trying to influence with his investigation.

“But he's a harasser and an abuser of our people in order to obstruct and interfere with the 2020 presidential election, that’s why they’re doing it. We’re leading by a lot in the polls. If I weren’t, I believe it would all stop."

Here’s a rundown of where Smith’s investigation stands and why Trump has good reason to be concerned.

All eyes on Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence after speaking at a conference on Tuesday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The appearance by the former vice president on Thursday before the Washington grand jury is a significant event in Smith’s investigation. On Wednesday, an appeals court rejected a last-ditch appeal by Trump's lawyers to block Pence from testifying. Just hours later, Pence swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about his interactions with Trump and the plan hatched by lawyer John Eastman for Pence to reject the Electoral College tally. While the testimony already given by former members of Trump’s staff will no doubt factor into Smith's decision on whether to charge Trump with crimes, Pence is the central character in the former president's plan to subvert American democracy.

“We’ll obey the law, we’ll tell the truth,” Pence said in an interview with CBS on Sunday.

2nd firm hired by Trump confirmed absence of 2020 election fraud

Dominion Voting ballot counting machines
Dominion ballot-counting machines in Estancia, N.M. (Andres Leighton/AP)

While Trump spent months prior to the 2020 election declaring to the nation that it would be marred by fraud due to the use of mail-in ballots, those claims have since repeatedly been proved false. In order to charge him with conspiracy and obstruction, however, Smith will need to prove that Trump wasn’t simply wrong that fraud had cost him victory in the election, but that he pursued a strategy to overturn the results even though he knew his assertions were bogus.

To that end, Smith has subpoenaed employees of two firms that Trump’s campaign paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in the wake of the election to turn up evidence of voter fraud.

“No substantive voter fraud was uncovered in my investigations looking for it, nor was I able to confirm any of the outside claims of voter fraud that I was asked to look at,” Ken Block, founder of the firm Simpatico Software Systems, one of the firms subpoenaed by Smith, told the Washington Post. “Every fraud claim I was asked to investigate was false.”

[Pence Just Testified About Trump’s Election Theft Plot for Over Seven Hours: Rolling Stone]

Berkeley Research Group, a second firm contracted by the Trump campaign and subpoenaed by Smith, reached the same conclusion: Voter fraud significant enough to sway the results of the 2020 election had simply not occurred.

Whether Trump was made aware of the findings by Simpatico Software Systems and Berkeley Research Group is not clear, but his campaign certainly received them.

Trump fundraising under the microscope

In the two months following the 2020 election, Trump and his associates may have used his bogus election claims to raise millions of dollars from his supporters. Smith has been scrutinizing that fundraising, the Washington Post reported, which may have violated federal wire fraud laws that prohibit the use of false information over email to raise money. According to the Post, Smith has sent “subpoenas in recent weeks to Trump advisers and former campaign aides, Republican operatives and other consultants involved in the 2020 presidential campaign” in connection with the possible fundraising grift.

Fox News producer Abby Grossberg to turn over recordings to Smith

Sen. Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at a Senate committee hearing in March. (Mariam Zuhaib/AP)

Smith's case may not implicate only Trump. On Tuesday, former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg released a recording she had made of a conversation between Fox News host Maria Bartiromo and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, describing a plan to challenge the 2020 election results.

Grossberg, who worked with the recently fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson, is suing the network for alleged gender and religious discrimination. Earlier this month, Fox News reached a $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over bogus claims of voter fraud promoted by the network’s hosts.

MSNBC reported Tuesday that Smith had contacted Grossberg’s lawyers and was in the process of securing access to the recording of the conversation between Bartiromo and Cruz, as well as others.