Former Vice President Mike Pence, delivering his strongest public rebuke yet to the president who made him his running mate, said on Saturday night “that history will hold Donald Trump accountable” for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which he called “a disgrace.”
The annual Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington is usually a venue for lighthearted ribbing between political figures, government officials and the district’s media veterans, but Mr. Pence used the occasion on Saturday to dig into Mr. Trump at a moment when conservative media commentators and some Republicans in Congress have again tried to dismiss the seriousness of the Capitol riot.
“Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by sightseeing,” Mr. Pence said, according to media reports from the event, an implicit rebuke of the Fox News host Tucker Carlson and other conservatives who have used selective security camera footage to reframe the riot as a largely peaceful demonstration. Thousands of hours of that footage was released to Mr. Carlson by the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California. “Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the speaker of the House or voice threats against public officials.”
And Mr. Pence made his reprimand of Mr. Trump personal when he said, “President Trump was wrong; I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
The timing of the remarks was significant. Mr. Trump and his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, are the only two major, declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, but other potential challengers are edging closer. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is on a swing through early primary and caucus states, including Iowa and Nevada. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, is on a “listening tour” in the same states. Mr. Pence is considering a run as well.
But until Saturday, any rival jabs at the former president and presumed front-runner for the nomination have been implicit. Mr. Pence called him out by name, setting a new bar for other Republicans hoping to replace Mr. Trump as the party’s leader.
Early this month, a group of men imprisoned for their participation in the Capitol attack released a song titled “Justice for All” — the national anthem interspersed with Mr. Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — and House Republicans on the party’s right flank have started what they are calling an investigation into the treatment of such “political prisoners.”
Mr. Pence was unsparing in his condemnation of such efforts, as well as the selective editing of thousands of hours of security footage.
“The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said. “But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”
He also jokingly hinted at his presidential ambitions.
“I will wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for president in 2024,” he said. “If it’s me.”