PolitiFact: Arizona Republican said Pence ‘seized power’ from Trump, undertook a ‘coup’ Jan. 6. That’s wrong.

Mark Finchem coming under fire because of comments made on Twiter.
Mark Finchem coming under fire because of comments made on Twiter.(Source: Twitter @MarkFinchem)
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 5:18 PM MST
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WASHINGTON (Politifact) - Mark Finchem, the Republican running for Arizona Secretary of State, claims former Vice President Mike Pence “seized power” from President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, and that Pence’s actions amounted to a “coup.”

Finchem claimed that testimony by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., supported his point. He said that during a House select committee hearing investigating the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, Cheney said it was Pence, and not Trump, who contacted the defense secretary and other federal officials.

“Mike Pence seized power over an existing president. He was not president. Donald Trump was still president at that moment,” Finchem said in a speech to United Patriots Arizona, a group that says it supports more freedom and less government.

Finchem spoke to the group in July, but his comments resurfaced in news reports in September.

Finchem continued: “Liz Cheney just outed him and I think in doing so reveals that she was complicit. Pence had no authority to order the DOD, (Department of Homeland Security) or (Department of Justice) around. Zero, zip, nada. How long has he been ordering those folks around? Well apparently from Jan 6 to Jan. 20. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a coup. He had no authority to do so.”

When the mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, Pence communicated with military leaders to secure the Capitol and protect Congress members who were there to certify the electoral votes. But as vice president of the United States, president of the U.S. Senate and a member of the National Security Council, Pence’s actions were within the scope of his power.

It doesn’t amount to a coup by the former vice president, according to experts on national security.

Finchem is running against Democrat Adrian Fontes, a former Maricopa County elections official. Finchem is part of a national coalition of secretary of state candidates who deny that Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020.

We contacted Finchem’s campaign and received no response.

Pence’s actions Jan. 6

Here is how Pence’s actions unfolded on Jan. 6:

Pence arrived at the Capitol around 12:26 p.m. for the counting of the electoral votes. Shortly before 2 p.m. law enforcement declared that a riot was underway. Some pro-Trump rioters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. the Secret Service took Pence from the House chamber to his office. Pence refused to leave the Capitol and was moved to the basement.

What we know about Pence’s actions that afternoon comes from testimony during a House oversight committee hearing in 2021 and Jan. 6 House select committee hearings in 2022:

  • Cheney said: “You will hear that Donald Trump never picked up the phone that day to order his administration to help. This is not ambiguous. He did not call the military. His secretary of defense received no order. He did not call his attorney general. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security. Mike Pence did all of those things; Donald Trump did not.”
  • U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: “There were two or three calls with Vice President Pence. He was very animated and he issued very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders. There was no question about that. …To Secretary Miller, ‘Get the military down here, get the (National) Guard down here, put down this situation,’ etc.”
  • Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said: “The vice president is not in the chain of command. He did not direct me to clear the Capitol. I discussed very briefly with him the situation. He provided insights based on his presence there.” Miller said he notified Pence of planned military and law enforcement mobilizations.
  • Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified that he spoke with Pence to update him on what the department was doing to assist. Rosen spoke again with Pence and other officials in the evening to address when Congress could reassemble.

Pence’s contacts with federal officials did not amount to a coup

coup is shorthand for “coup d’état,” a French phrase meaning “an overthrow of government.” A coup is carried out beyond the bounds of legality, and although violence is part of many coups, is it not an essential element.

Experts on national security said Pence’s actions on Jan. 6 did not amount to a coup. A vice president is not in the military chain of command and therefore can’t issue a formal order to the military unless the president has been incapacitated, said Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who worked as a White House security adviser during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“It is appropriate for the vice president, as a member of the National Security Council, to consult with the team about an unfolding crisis and make recommendations for how the various principals should use their delegated powers,” Feaver said.

Unless Trump ordered military leaders not to use their delegated powers to rescue Congress from the rioters, he continued, “then there does not appear to be anyone grossly overstepping their authority here.”

Pence did not seize the presidency or its powers, said Dakota S. Rudesill, an expert on national security law and policy at Ohio State University

“Trump may have been inactive as president for most of Jan. 6, but he was still the lawful president,” said Rudesill, who served in the national intelligence director’s office during the Obama administration. “I think it was certainly within the rights of the vice president or anybody else with a senior position to say, ‘In my opinion, we need to urgently do x and y.’”

Pence’s actions that day fulfilled his oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, said Patrick Eddington, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Our ruling

Finchem said Pence “seized power” from Trump and undertook “a coup” when he called on federal agencies for assistance on Jan. 6.

Pence spoke with military or security leaders on Jan. 6 to get help securing the Capitol.

As vice president of the United States, president of the U.S. Senate and a member of the National Security Council, it was within the scope of Pence’s power to talk to leaders who could defend the Capitol against domestic enemies. That does not equate to Pence seizing power from Trump or orchestrating an overthrow of the government.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

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