Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that he was angered by President Donald J. Trump’s conduct on and before Jan. 6, 2021, but he took pains to avoid attacking him as Mr. Trump geared up for a presidential campaign and Mr. Pence considers one of his own.
During a 30-minute interview in New York City as he promoted his new book, “So Help Me God,” Mr. Pence deflected questions about Mr. Trump’s character and declined to say whether the former president should be elected again but suggested that he would not be supporting Mr. Trump in the Republican primary season.
“I think we’ll have better choices,” Mr. Pence said.
Asked how he responded to Mr. Trump defending the people who chanted “Hang Mike Pence” at the Capitol that day last year and suggesting that those who were arrested were “political prisoners,” Mr. Pence answered: “It is the reason why I decided that we should just go our separate ways.”
Recounting that he and Mr. Trump had several conversations in the final days of the presidency following the storming of the Capitol and in the few months after they left the White House, Mr. Pence suggested that their relationship was now dead. And he made clear that he was angry that Mr. Trump endangered Mr. Pence’s family that day with his inflammatory language about a stolen election.
When asked if he should have said something publicly before Jan. 6 about Mr. Trump’s pressure on him to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election and his lies about Mr. Pence’s willingness to go along with subverting the electoral vote certification, Mr. Pence suggested that private conversations with Mr. Trump had always worked in the past when they disagreed.
“First, let me go back to the nature of our relationship,” Mr. Pence said. “For four and a half years, I’d always been loyal to President Donald Trump. He was my president, he was my friend. Whenever we had differences of opinion, I always shared them in private.”
But, he said, “in the weeks before Jan. 6, I repeatedly told the president that I did not have the authority to reject or return electoral votes. It was clear he was getting different legal advice from an outside group of lawyers that, frankly, should have never been let in the building.”
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
Mr. Pence was pressed on whether that particular period of time seemed different with Mr. Trump, as it did to many outsiders. In response, the former vice president pointed to the rally that Mr. Trump held in Georgia on Jan. 4, 2021, the night before two runoff elections for U.S. Senate seats, during which, Mr. Pence said, Mr. Trump stopped himself from being gratuitously nasty as he was pressuring the vice president in his speech.
“I thought in that moment, to myself, I thought, he might be coming around,” Mr. Pence recalled. “But, you know, in the 36 hours after that, it was not to be.”
Mr. Pence also said that he never hesitated in telling Mr. Trump his view. “I said to him again, you know, that I’ve told you that I don’t have that authority,” he recalled of one of those talks. “And he would invariably kind of fall back to it. ‘Well, you’ll look at it, you’ll look at it, you’ll study it, you’ll let me know.’” He added, “I was very clear with him throughout.”
The success of a Pence presidential campaign would depend on enough of the Republican voters who helped vault the ticket into the White House in 2016 seeking the former vice president as offering the best parts of the Trump presidency, without the constant drama or chaos.
To that end, Mr. Pence dotted his sentences with praise for what Mr. Trump had accomplished, and repeatedly avoided overt criticism. As he spoke, he tapped his foot compulsively throughout the interview, and his wife, Karen, sat on a chair just outside the small room, observing and listening outside a photographer’s shot.
Asked what he thought of Mr. Trump’s character, Mr. Pence replied that the former president had, “apart from the ending” of the presidency, always been good to Mr. Pence and his family.
When asked if Mr. Trump was a good man or simply if Mr. Pence considered him as good as his word, Mr. Pence replied, “I thought he was as good as his word, and I think the American people knew that.”
Mr. Pence, a social conservative and opponent of abortion rights, took pride in the Supreme Court decision this year overturning Roe v. Wade and said that had he still been in Congress, he would have voted for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
In his book, Mr. Pence repeatedly insists that Mr. Trump is not a bigot, suggesting such a characterization is unfair. When presented with racist statements Mr. Trump has made in the past month about the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was born in Taiwan, and asked why Mr. Trump repeatedly says things like that, Mr. Pence said only, “I think the president has an abrasive style that is very different from mine.”
Mr. Pence’s preference in the interview was to discuss the events around Jan. 6, and he saved some of his toughest criticism for Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s final chief of staff and the one who many blame for the freewheeling access that fringe figures and conspiracy theorists about the election had to the sitting president.
“When Mark Meadows took the role of chief of staff, I felt a sea change,” Mr. Pence said. “I felt that the guardrails had come off in the Oval Office.” Among Mr. Meadows’s failings, he said, was encouraging a “premature” end to coronavirus briefings for the public.
“But the fact that at the end,” Mr. Pence said, “the president set aside extraordinarily talented attorneys in the White House Counsel’s Office” was particularly egregious. That others were allowed to go into the Oval Office and even the residence “to tell the president, as the Bible says, what his itching ears wanted to hear, was a great disservice to the country,” he said.
Mr. Pence has not spoken with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol and what led to it, saying in the interview that he took issue with the political makeup of its members.
When asked if the Justice Department has expressed an interest in talking to him, he did not answer directly.
Finally, Mr. Pence said he did not know why Mr. Trump had taken hundreds of classified documents to Mar-a-Lago, his private club, after the presidency ended. But he took issue with the F.B.I. search of the property, saying it was invasive, given Mr. Trump’s status as a former commander in chief.
“I had the benefit of having a staff that very carefully reviewed the documents that were in my White House office, prior to our departure,” Mr. Pence said, adding that he did not leave with anything.