FIRST ON FOX: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Former Vice President Mike Pence called the Justice Department's appointment of a special counsel to investigate former President Trump "very troubling," while telling Fox News Digital that his level of cooperation with that investigation would be up to his legal team.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed former Justice Department official Jack Smith to the role of special counsel to investigate the entirety of the criminal probe into the retention of presidential records held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. Smith will also oversee the DOJ’s investigation into the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
During a sit-down interview with Fox News Digital on the sidelines of the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Pence criticized the Justice Department for its "politicization"— especially with regard to Trump.
"The appointment of a special counsel is very troubling," Pence told Fox News Digital. "No one is above the law, but I am not sure it’s against the law to take bad advice from your lawyers."
Pence pointed to "years of politicization at the Justice Department," referencing the Trump-Russia investigation. "There have been disclosed FBI agents falsifying documents, the FBI using a Clinton campaign-funded opposition research document to support two and a half years of the Russia hoax."
Trump's presidency was clouded by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether he and his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
After nearly two years, Mueller’s investigation, which concluded in March 2019, yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Pence said he was "deeply troubled" when "senior leadership at the Justice Department made the decision to execute a search warrant against the personal residence of the former president of the United States," referring to the FBI’s unprecedented raid of Mar-a-Lago in August.
"It had never been done in history," he said, adding that the raid "sent a divisive message across the country," and warned that it "sent a wrong message about America around the world."
Pence, who served on the House Judiciary Committee for 10 years as a congressman from Indiana, said he knows "how the Justice Department operates."
"There were many more opportunities — short of executing a search warrant on the personal residence of the president of the United States to resolve the issues of classified documents that were present there."
FBI agents seized classified records from former Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago during the agency's unprecedented raid on Aug. 8, including some marked as top secret, according to a warrant and property receipt. Trump and his legal team have said records held at Mar-a-Lago had been declassified when Trump was in the White House. The Justice Department argues that Trump unlawfully retained national defense information at his home.
Pence told Fox News Digital that he hopes "the new special counsel will take all of that into consideration."
"Now would be a good time for the Justice Department to be working on restoring its credibility with the American people," Pence said.
Pence also criticized the "timing" of the appointment.
"The timing of this decision — just a few short days after the president announced his intention to seek re-election, I think that the history of it, the facts that I am aware of behind it, I think it is very troubling," Pence said.
Smith, a former assistant U.S. attorney and chief to the DOJ's public integrity section, will also take on the DOJ’s probe into Jan. 6.
When asked if he would cooperate with that probe if asked, Pence said: "You know, I would direct those questions to my counsel at the appropriate time."
Pence has said he will not testify before the House Committee investigating Jan. 6. The former vice president told Fox News Digital Friday that he was "very concerned from early on about the partisan nature of a committee that was tasked with examining what was really a tragic moment in the history of the U.S. Capitol."
"And, frankly, the idea of a committee in the Congress entirely appointed by one party was offensive to my understanding of what the Congress is," Pence said, referring to the panel mostly made up of Democrats—with the exception of outgoing Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Pence said he "didn't stand in the way of members of my senior staff cooperating or testifying, but said "Congress has no right to my testimony."
"I think if you consider the separation of powers between co-equal branches of government, I just think having a former vice president of the United States come before Congress to testify about private deliberations with the president of the United States or private deliberations at the White House would set a terrible precedent," he said.
Meanwhile, Trump told Fox News Friday after the announcement from the Justice Department that he "won’t partake in" the investigation, and called it "the worst politicization of justice in our country," while urging the Republican Party to take action.
"I have been going through this for six years — for six years I have been going through this, and I am not going to go through it anymore," Trump told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview Friday shortly after the announcement. "And I hope the Republicans have the courage to fight this."
"I have been proven innocent for six years on everything — from fake impeachments to [former special counsel Robert] Mueller, who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more?" Trump said. "It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political."
"I am not going to partake in it," Trump told Fox News Digital. "I'm not going to partake in this."
Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, said it is "not even believable."
"I have never heard of such a thing. They found nothing. I announce, and then they appoint a special prosecutor," he said. "They found nothing, and now they take some guy who hates Trump. This is a disgrace and only happening because I am leading in every poll in both parties."