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Congresswoman Liz Cheney says work on the January 6th committee hasn't eased her concerns

Liz Cheney official 116th Congress portrait
U.S. Representative Liz Cheney

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney has certainly been in the news lately. Her work on the Jan. 6 committee, verbal sparring with national and Wyoming Republicans, and her concern about President Biden put her in the headlines on a regular basis. She spoke with Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck.

Bob Beck: So you've been awfully busy these days working on this Jan. 6 Committee. I thought it might be a good idea for you to update some of the folks in Wyoming. What sort of the latest information are you getting and where we are right now?

Liz Cheney: Well, thanks so much, it's always great to be on with you, Bob. And the committee is working in a whole range of ways, really, very much focused on what happened that led to the attack on the Capitol. What happened in the run-up, in terms of the efforts that were underway to try to overturn the count and overturn the election. And it's an area of concern or should be for every American, no matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. Making sure that we have elected officials who will respect the peaceful transfer of power. And we've had tremendous cooperation from hundreds of witnesses. It's been a situation where some of the bigger names like Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon, (who) we've had to move criminal contempt charges against, get a lot of attention.

But the many, many others who have produced information and documents and come in to talk to us, people from all levels, who worked in the White House, who worked in other agencies, some who worked on the Hill, who really understand how dangerous (this was) and how close we came to an even more dangerous situation. And so we're learning a lot. And I will say that I haven't learned anything that has reduced my concern. You know, we have many teams in the investigation working on different aspects of this, but it all has, I think, really just reaffirmed for me how close we came to our institutions not holding.

BB: From what I've heard and picked up is that there was a sense that this was going to be a very close election, and then you started to hear some of the rhetoric from the president that there might be election fraud in the upcoming election. But what I've also picked up is there was a plan to address that. What can you share about that?

LC: There's no question, if you look at the documents that have been made public already, there clearly was a plan underway. Initially, it was legitimate, it was absolutely appropriate for the President to challenge in court to raise issues if he had concerns about what was happening in particular states and he did that in both state and federal court. That's how our system works. But of course, we had something like 61 of 62 courts rule against him, including many Trump judges, many Republican judges, some of whom he appointed, and not just ruling against the campaign on the basis of standing, which is another point you hear, but making very clear that the evidence that President Trump and his allies were presenting was wholly insufficient for the relief they sought.

They were asking judges to overturn election results and making public claims that were nowhere near the claims they were making in court. And yet, still, you've got, one of the president's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, [who] has been disbarred. Another one, Sidney Powell, who's been sanctioned. So we really have had a situation where you had a president who, once the legitimate challenge had ended, was not satisfied to do what every previous president has done, which is to say, I 'lost.' You can make a decision that you're going to fight harder the next time, but you can't attempt to stay in power, once you've lost the election. And what we saw here is exactly that.

BB: There are some that believe the president had the rally, fired folks up, and said let's go over to the Capitol and yell at them. Let's stand outside and have a protest. That's what they believe the President was doing and of course, it escalated from there. What do you believe right now?

LC: Well, I think what we know now is that the President summoned the mob to Washington. And then told them to march to the Capitol. And it wasn't just the speech that he gave, but it was what he had been saying for weeks before that, months before that. And we also know that while the attack was happening and while he was aware that there was a violent mob that had invaded the Capitol, he spent several hours refusing to take the action of telling people to stop and go home. And at that same time, during that same time period, he tweeted that his Vice President didn't have the courage to do what was necessary. And we know, from the public filings and in the cases revolving around the Jan. 6th defendants, many of them said in their pleadings that they were inspired by the President's words, that when they saw the tweet that said that Mike Pence wasn't going to refuse to count electors, that he didn't have the courage, as the President put it, in some instances that inspired people to breach the Capitol, who hadn't yet.

So, we know the President's words, in fact, did provoke the violence. And we also know that he refused.. we think about the responsibility of a commander in chief, his constitutional obligation is to defend and to ensure the laws are faithfully executed and to defend the other branches of government. And we know that President Trump failed to do that.

BB: You come from a family that is certainly interested in history and has studied it. When you look at this and compare it to Watergate and some of the things we've seen in the past, where does this rank?

LC: This is something that we've never faced as a nation. I think that drawing comparisons to Pearl Harbor where 3,000 Americans were killed, 9/11 where 3,000 Americans were killed. I don't think that is the right kind of a comparison, because this is different. But what we're facing here is a situation where the President of the United States himself, provokes this violent mob to come to Washington and then sends them to march on the Capitol. The President himself to this day continues to use the language he knows provoked that violence before. I think about President Bush 43 and the speech that he made on the night of 9/11, from the Oval Office, and one of the things he said was, the terrorists can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they can't shake the foundation of our democracy.

And I think in this instance, we really have seen the foundation of our democracy shaken and I think that, but for the act of some brave individuals who stood against the president's pressure, and but for the tremendous courage and heroism of the law enforcement officers who were attacked, assaulted, wounded, and fought, medieval, bloody combat that day, we would have had thousands more people inside the Capitol. You know a violent, violent mob inside the Capitol. So, it is really serious. And it's a reminder, I think, for all of us how important our oaths to the Constitution are. And what obligations we have, because we live in a republic, and that means you have to defend the institutions of our republic.

BB: He was throwing verbal hand grenades for a while before all of this. Was there a mistake made by yourself, our delegation and others for not maybe squelching him prior to this?

LC: I think certainly history is going to be written about that. I can just tell you that, I became very concerned that this was more than just sort of fiery rhetoric as the period after the election unfolded and it was before November ended, I believe, when I issued a statement basically saying, look if you have evidence of fraud, you need to present that evidence in court. And if you don't have that evidence, then you need to say you're going to respect the sanctity of our electoral process.

You cannot continue down the path of ignoring the rulings of the courts. I think once we got past Dec.14, at that point John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and I all issued a joint statement saying, the election was over, and that Joe Biden was going to be the president. And I think people assumed maybe that would be the endpoint. But once you see Jan. 6 and you see that unfold, and you see the extent to which the President was willing to blow through all of the guardrails of democracy, then I just don't know how you can do anything except say, that is a path we must never go down, that's a line you can't cross. Any individual who's willing to provoke that kind of an assault and to ignore the rulings of our court, cannot be anywhere near the Oval Office again. We cannot count on that person to defend the Constitution of the United States.

BB: How do we get to the point where we are going to trust elections again?

LC: Yeah, it's a very important point. And I think frankly, over the course of the last 10 days or so, President Biden and Vice President Harrist, and a number of Democrats publicly questioned the legitimacy of the upcoming election. I think we all need to be responsible for our words. I think it's the obligation of a president to engender trust in the election process. And we all need to recognize there certainly are improvements that can be made. We've talked about these before. I believe in voter ID, for example. And I think we need to constantly work to improve our elections process. But there's a big difference between saying that and saying you can't trust the election process, that the election is not going to yield a legitimate outcome.

There have been changes that are being made in some states around the country, some of those changes, I think are a real concern. I think when you take the process of administering elections and try to put that completely into the hands of political officials, I think that's concerning. Some states have said that their state legislatures are going to have the power to overturn or to choose different electors after an election has occurred. We are at a moment where we all need to take a very hard look at making sure the elections are safe and secure. And ensuring that we're not putting in place changes that will take power away from the States. I think that's a concern as well. I have not supported some of the proposals that the Democrats have put forward, because I think they give too much power to the federal government. And part of the security of our elections is that they aren't run from one centralized place and certainly the Constitution doesn't provide for that.

We've been talking in Congress on a bipartisan basis about reforms to the electoral account act. And what we need to do to make sure it's clear what Congress's role is and it's clear what the Vice President's role is, when we count electoral votes. And I think there are a number of things that we can agree on a bipartisan basis. Some of the other things we've talked about are raising the threshold, so if there is a legitimate objection, and I don't believe actually Congress has a role in objecting, but right now you just need one house member and one senator. And so one proposal is that you would raise that threshold so you would need more people raising an objection before you would go to debate the objection. Again, I think the Constitution and the Electoral Account Act, I think it's clear Congress has a ministerial role. But I think that we do need to make some changes after what happened on Jan. 6.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.

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