Liz Cheney Takes On Trump, and Her Own Party

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    WASHINGTON — Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, had just matter-of-factly rattled off a string of damning revelations illustrating how former President Trump had stoked the mob who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when she paused to address the members of her own party who she said were “defending the indefensible.”

    “There will come a day when President Trump is gone,” Ms. Cheney said. “But your dishonor will remain.”

    Her rebuke, part of the searing opening remarks she delivered at the first prime-time hearing to lay out the Jan. 6 committee’s findings, marked the culmination of a remarkable arc for Ms. Cheney, the daughter of a prominent conservative family, from one of the most powerful leaders in her party to one of its most vocal critics, and a reviled foe of its de facto leader.

    She has been unrepentant in continuing to blame Mr. Trump for stoking the attack, and her Republican colleagues for following his lead by spreading the lie of a stolen presidential election. That stance has left her marginalized by her party, with her colleagues ousting her from her leadership position and seeking to purge her from the House by boosting a MAGA-styled primary challenger to her at home in Wyoming.

    Now, from her perch as the vice chairwoman of the committee investigating the attack, Ms. Cheney is leading the charge to hold Mr. Trump to account for his efforts to overturn the election.

    On Thursday night, Ms. Cheney illustrated in remarks studded with new details how, “over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”

    Unfurling new testimony, she illustrated how Mr. Trump had persisted in pushing the fiction of a stolen election even as his top officials told him his claims of election fraud were false. And she emphasized how Mr. Trump had responded blithely when told that the rioters storming the Capitol threatened his vice president, chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”

    “The president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves it,’” Ms. Cheney said, quoting from testimony collected by committee investigators.

    Mr. Trump, she argued, had thrown the republic into “a moment of maximum danger” not seen before.

    “The sacred obligation to defend this peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American president — except one,” Ms. Cheney said.

    They were striking words coming from Ms. Cheney, who had been one of the most powerful Republicans in the House when she was ejected from her leadership post last year for bluntly and repeatedly condemning Mr. Trump’s false election claims and blaming him for the riot.

    But Ms. Cheney did not back down, and in taking a leadership role on the Jan. 6 panel, she has elevated herself as perhaps the foremost critic of Mr. Trump in today’s Republican Party. She has said she views the assignment as the most important of her political career, and she often uses language borrowed from the criminal code — delivered in a characteristically blunt tone — to make clear that she believes the former president faces criminal exposure.

    “Those who invaded our Capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them: that the election was stolen, and that he was the rightful president,” Ms. Cheney said. “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”

    Behind the scenes, Ms. Cheney is known to be one of the more engaged and aggressive questioners on the panel. Video shared during the hearing on Thursday showed Ms. Cheney personally pressing Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and adviser, about whether Mr. Trump’s lawyer threatened to resign over his false election claims. And it was she who pressed to assemble a bipartisan team of former intelligence analysts and law enforcement specialists on the committee’s staff.

    Before the hearing, Ms. Cheney spent much of the day polishing her opening remarks, tapping away on her laptop in her suite in the Cannon House Office Building, a floor above the sprawling, chandelier-topped hearing room where she was to speak before a nationally televised audience. The lawmaker wrote her own speech, aides said, in consultation with a small inner circle of advisers in her office and lawyers on the panel.

    Her husband, Philip Perry, and one of her five children attended the evening hearing, but former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, remained in their suburban Virginia home. Ms. Cheney, however, speaks to her father every day, on the phone or in person, and discussed her remarks with him in the hours before Thursday’s hearing.

    Ms. Cheney is one of just two Republicans to serve on the committee, alongside Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has also openly condemned Mr. Trump. Both were selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, after Republicans boycotted the committee in protest of her decision to bar two of their members from serving on it.

    At nearly every turn since the riot, Mr. Trump and House G.O.P. leaders have sought to drive her out of the party, including by backing her Trump-endorsed primary challenger, Harriet Hageman. There are few Republicans the former president is more determined to beat than the Wyoming’s at-large House member, and polling shows that Ms. Cheney faces an uphill battle to keep her seat in a ruby-red state that still favors the former president.

    “Nancy Pelosi loves her hand-picked minion,” Ms. Hageman wrote on Twitter, sharing a news article about Ms. Cheney’s work on the committee. “Wyoming? Not so much.”

    The congresswoman finds herself in political jeopardy because, unlike some Republicans who have found themselves in Mr. Trump’s cross hairs, she has neither sought to repair her relationship with him nor ignored his criticism.

    In seemingly embracing political martyrdom, Ms. Cheney had invited speculation that she might not seek re-election — up until the moment last month when she filed to do just that, shortly before the deadline.

    Her broadsides against Mr. Trump have fueled speculation that, win or lose this summer in Wyoming, she will mount a long-shot campaign against the former president should he seek to reclaim the presidency.

    In a video she posted as she filed for re-election last month, Ms. Cheney used the sort of lofty language to which she has often turned since breaking with her party last year, invoking her state’s distinctive sense of western honor — and perhaps previewing what she may offer voters in 2024.

    “In Wyoming, we know what it means to ride for the brand,” Ms. Cheney said. “We live in the greatest nation God has ever created, and our brand is the United States Constitution.”

    Ms. Cheney has made little secret of the fact that she considers her work on the Jan. 6 panel — and the political price she has paid for it — historic.

    “As you’re listening to some of my colleagues and others who think that the way to respond to this investigation is with politics and partisanship — those people are not acting in a way that is healthy for the country,” she said in an interview with The Dispatch this week. “And if we really want to understand why Jan. 6 is a line that can never be crossed again, then we really do have to put the politics and the partisanship aside and say what happened.”

    On Thursday, she was accompanied throughout the day by one of Mr. Cheney’s old friends, David Hume Kennerly, the famed photographer who forged a relationship with the future vice president when both served in President Gerald R. Ford’s White House, Mr. Cheney as chief of staff and Mr. Kennerly as official photographer.

    Mr. Kennerly, who remains close with the family, has shown up, camera in hand, on other momentous days for Ms. Cheney, including last year when she was ousted from her leadership post by her Republican colleagues.

    Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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