On January 6, 2021, from a parking garage under the Capitol Visitor Center, then–Vice President Mike Pence ordered the military to defend the Capitol against a violent insurrection. According to a taped deposition of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pence “issued very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders” to him and Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller: “Get the military down here. Get the Guard here. Put down this situation.”
This is a problem—one that has been overshadowed by the larger events of January 6. The constitutional authority to call out the military to defend the Capitol is vested in the president of the United States, not in the vice president. Why did Pence seize constitutional authority that wasn’t his? The country needs answers to this question, and it needs them from Pence, not from his chief of staff or his counsel.
In ordinary circumstances, Pence’s actions would be unconstitutional. Indeed, a vice president who usurped the president’s constitutional authority, and the Cabinet and military officers who followed his orders, could be committing an impeachable offense. But these were no ordinary circumstances: With Pence huddled in a secure location protected by his security detail, his actions were almost certainly justified. [Continue reading…]