WASHINGTON - The day after the latest U.S. congressional hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by Donald Trump's supporters, the former president criticized Mike Pence's actions that day, saying that his vice president had lacked courage.
The hearings have detailed the ways in which Trump urged his supporters to turn on Pence for refusing his requests to reject the November 2020 election results, before they stormed the Capitol, fighting with police as some chanted "hang Mike Pence!"
"Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be, frankly, historic," Trump told an audience of Christian conservatives in Nashville on Friday.
"Mike, and I say it sadly because I like him, but Mike did not have the courage to act," Trump added.
Republican Trump repeated his false claims that his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud, assertions that were rejected by multiple courts, state election officials and members of his own administration.
Multiple Trump allies including his daughter Ivanka, former attorney general William Barr and other officials have testified to the committee that they did not believe Trump's false claims.
Pence's staff were not immediately available for comment.
Pence defended his actions, however, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday.
"Ultimately, I believe that most Americans understand that we did our duty that day under the Constitution and the laws of this country," the newspaper quoted Pence as saying.
Trump attacked the bipartisan nine-member Jan. 6 select committee, which has held three hearings in little more than a week and is building a case that Trump acted illegally by trying to overturn his election loss.
"Let's be clear, this is not a congressional investigation, this horrible situation that's wasting everyone's time. This is a theatrical production of partisan political fiction. That's getting these terrible, terrible ratings and they're going crazy," Trump said.
On Thursday, former Pence aides told the committee that Trump pressed Pence to overturn the election results in Congress, after being told repeatedly that it was illegal to do so. Democrats on the panel said Trump kept up the pressure even though he knew a violent mob of his supporters was threatening the Capitol, where Pence and lawmakers worked to certify the election results.
Trump has protested that the hearings lack "equal representation." Democrats initially pressed for a balanced bicameral investigation, but Republicans rejected the plan.
The committee's proceedings are taking place in the runup to congressional elections in November, which will determine the balance of power in the Senate and House of Representatives ahead of the 2024 general election.
Trump continues to flirt publicly with the idea of running for president again in 2024.
But for now, the former president is concentrating on a revenge election campaign this year against his perceived enemies, including 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him after the Capitol attack, among them Representative Liz Cheney, who is vice chair of the investigating committee.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu and Katharine Jackson; Editing by Scott Malone; editing by Grant McCool)