Though he believes “no one is above the law,” former US vice-president Mike Pence says he hopes federal prosecutors “give careful consideration before they take any additional steps” in investigating Donald Trump’s role in inciting the rioters who staged the January 6 Capitol attack and tried to hang him.

Pence made those remarks Sunday in an interview with the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, in which he also said that the FBI “sent the wrong message” with its search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in August to retake government secrets that were stored there without authorization.

According to Pence, Trump was “repeating … what he was hearing from that gaggle of attorneys around him” before the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol nearly two years ago, which supporters of the president at the time launched in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to halt the certification of his defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Trump has been under congressional investigation after telling his supporters – some of whom wanted Pence to stop the certification or hang from a gallows – to “fight like hell” that day, among other things. Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, on Friday appointed a special counsel to weigh charges against Trump for the Capitol attack and the government secrets at Mar-a-Lago, two days after the former president announced that he would again seek the Republican nomination for the White House.

But, when asked on Sunday if he thinks Trump committed a crime in connection with the Capitol attack, Pence replied: “I don’t know if it is criminal to listen to bad advice from lawyers” who were consulting the president on efforts to sow distrust about his loss to Biden.

As for the Mar-a-Lago search, Pence suggested that federal authorities had not exhausted alternative methods to recoup the secret documents in question. “There had to be many other ways to resolve those issues,” Pence told Todd.

The justice department had issued a grand jury subpoena seeking all documents bearing classification markings in Trump’s possession before the Mar-a-Lago search.

Trump’s lawyers produced some documents in early June in response to that subpoena. But the justice department subsequently received evidence that other classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago, leading to the search there on 8 August.

Ultimately, Pence said it sent a “wrong” and “divisive” message, particularly “to the wider world that looks to America as the gold standard”.

“I want to see the credibility of the [US] justice department restored after years of politicization,” Pence added.

Pence’s relatively supportive remarks for Trump cut a contrast with more critical ones that he had leveled against his former running mate in his new memoir, So Help Me God. One part of the memoir says Trump erred by failing to condemn the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marked by a deadly police helicopter crash and the murder of a counter-protester.

The book also asserts that Trump misstepped by failing to acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 election he won over Hillary Clinton, saying that doing so would not have cheapened the victory.

Pence also responded to Trump’s latest run for the White House by telling ABC News: “I think we’ll have better choices in the future.” For his part, Pence told ABC he was giving “prayerful consideration” to his possibly competing for the Republican nomination, too.

Authorities have linked up to nine deaths to the Capitol attack, including the suicides of officers who were traumatized by having to defend the grounds. More than 800 participants have been charged, including members of violent far-right groups, and many have already been convicted as well as imprisoned for their roles on that day.

Pence said on Sunday he was proud that neither chamber of Congress let the Capitol attack derail the certification of the 2020 election’s outcome.

“Leaders in both political parties” reached “unanimous agreement that whatever needed to be done, we needed to reconvene the Congress that day and finish our work”, Pence said.

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