WASHINGTON — The violent mob that stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6 came perilously close to Vice President Mike Pence, who was not evacuated from the Senate chamber for about 14 minutes after the Capitol Police reported an initial attempted breach of the complex — enough time for the marauders to rush inside the building and approach his location, according to law enforcement officials and video footage from that day.
Secret Service officers eventually spirited Pence to a room off the Senate floor with his wife and daughter after rioters began to pour into the Capitol, many loudly denouncing the vice president as a traitor as they marched through the first floor below the Senate chamber.
About one minute after Pence was hustled out of the chamber, a group charged up the stairs to a second-floor landing in the Senate, chasing a Capitol Police officer who drew them away from the Senate.
Pence and his family had just ducked into a hideaway less than 100 feet from that landing, according to three people familiar with his whereabouts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. If the pro-Trump mob had arrived seconds earlier, the attackers would have been in eyesight of the vice president as he was rushed across a reception hall into the office.
The proximity of the Jan. 6 mob to the vice president and the delay in evacuating him from the chamber — which have not been previously reported — raise questions about why the Secret Service did not move him earlier and underscore the jeopardy that top government leaders faced during the siege.
As an increasingly hostile and violent crowd surrounded the Capitol, Pence remained center stage, presiding over a joint session of Congress for more than an hour after the Capitol Police chief said he alerted his superiors that his force was being overrun and needed emergency reinforcements.
The potential exposure of the vice president underscores how law enforcement agencies struggled to manage the rapidly expanding crisis in real time.
The Secret Service declined to comment on any element of Pence’s movements in the Capitol or his evacuation, other than to say that he was “secure” during the siege.
“While the Secret Service does not speak specifically about the means and methods of our protective operations, Vice President Pence was secure at all times on Jan. 6,” Secret Service spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan said in a statement.
A spokesman for Pence declined to comment.
Pence was ultimately evacuated from his office off the Senate floor to a more secure location elsewhere in the Capitol complex. It is unclear exactly how long that took. But as the vice president made his way through the building, a growing number of rioters were joining their cohorts and coursing through the Capitol’s labyrinthine halls.
Once inside, they used pipes, flagpoles, and other weapons to shatter windows and break furniture. One police officer later died of injuries sustained during the onslaught. Dozens of officers were wounded, including some who were struck with a fire extinguisher and another who was dragged down a set of steps and attacked by the crowd.
Many of those in the mob had their sights on Pence — enraged that he had refused President Trump’s demand that he head off the electoral college count that formalized President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
According to the FBI, one man who was charged this week with trespassing and disorderly conduct after making his way into the Senate chamber said in a YouTube video: “Once we found out Pence turned on us and that they had stolen the election, like, officially, the crowd went crazy. I mean, it became a mob.”
At one point, a group of rioters began chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” as they streamed into the main door on the east side of the Capitol.
The shirtless, tattooed man often referred to as “QAnon Shaman,” wearing face paint and a furry coyote-tail hat and carrying a six-foot-long spear, Jacob A. Chansley of Arizona left a note on the vice president’s desk that read in part, “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” according to court filings.
Chansley — who has been charged with two felonies, including threatening congressional officials — told investigators he was glad to reach Pence’s desk because he believes the vice president is a child-trafficking traitor, but said he did not mean the note as a threat.
In a court filing late on Thursday, federal prosecutors in Phoenix wrote that “strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government.”
Chansley, as of early Friday morning, was said to be represented by the federal public defender’s office in Phoenix.
But in a statement to The Washington Post, St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins said he had been retained as Chansley’s lawyer and called for Trump to pardon him.
Watkins claimed that Chansley acted in a “peaceful and compliant fashion” toward law enforcement and was cooperating with their investigation. Besides, he argued, the Arizona man only went to the Capitol because he was following Trump’s invitation.
“He took seriously the countless messages of President Trump. He believed in President Trump,” Watkins said. “Like tens of millions of other Americans, Chansley felt — for the first time in his life — as though his voice was being heard.”