In the Oval Office last week, the day before the vote, Mr. Trump pushed Mr. Pence in a string of encounters, including one meeting that lasted at least an hour. John Eastman, a conservative constitutional scholar at Chapman University, was in the office and argued to Mr. Pence that he did have the power to act.
The next morning, hours before the vote, Richard Cullen, Mr. Pence’s personal lawyer, called J. Michael Luttig, a former appeals court judge revered by conservatives — and for whom Mr. Eastman had once clerked. Mr. Luttig agreed to quickly write up his opinion that the vice president had no power to change the outcome, then posted it on Twitter.
Within minutes, Mr. Pence’s staff incorporated Mr. Luttig’s reasoning, citing him by name, into a letter announcing the vice president’s decision not to try to block electors. Reached on Tuesday, Mr. Luttig said it was “the highest honor of my life” to play a role in preserving the Constitution.
After the angry call cursing Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump riled up supporters at the rally against his own vice president, saying, “I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”
“He set Mike Pence up that day by putting it on his shoulders,” said Ryan Streeter, an adviser to Mr. Pence when he was the governor of Indiana. “That’s a pretty unprecedented thing in American politics. For a president to throw his own vice president under the bus like that and to encourage his supporters to take him on is something just unconscionable in my mind.”
Mr. Pence was already in his motorcade to the Capitol by that point. When the mob burst into the building, Secret Service agents evacuated him and his wife and children, first to his office off the floor and later to the basement. His agents urged him to leave the building, but he refused to abandon the Capitol. From there, he spoke with congressional leaders, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — but not the president.
A Republican senator later said he had never seen Mr. Pence so angry, feeling betrayed by a president for whom he had done so much. To Mr. Trump, one adviser said, the vice president had entered “Sessions territory,” referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general who was tortured by the president before being fired. (A vice president cannot be dismissed by a president.)