By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
When U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney appears on primetime television on Thursday night as part of the House Select Committee investigation of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it will be one of the most prominent roles a member of the Wyoming congressional delegation has ever played in such a high-profile legislative hearing.
Cheney is vice chair of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. The purpose of the committee is to investigate and report facts and causes relating to the Capital riot, its interference in the certification of the election, and law enforcement’s response to the event.
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In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Cheney described the conspiracy that led up to the Jan. 6 event as “extremely broad” and “well-organized.” She also finds its root causes to be “ongoing.”
“We are not in a situation where former President Trump has expressed any sense of remorse about what happened,” Cheney said. “We are in fact in a situation where he continues to use even more extreme language, frankly, than the language that caused the attack. And so, people must pay attention. People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”
Frank Eathorne, chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, attended the Jan. 6 event. New information recently surfaced disputing his location and the length of time he spent at the protest. Eathorne described the event as “moving” when talking about it to the party’s State Central Committee in January.
“In my state, the state party chairman is a member of the Oath Keepers,” Cheney said during the interview. “He was here on January 6. He was here with a walkie-talkie in his hand on January 6. That is a mortal threat. And it is a moral test. We can’t fail that moral test. But there are too many right now in my party who are failing it.”
Trump has consistently downplayed the significance of the Jan. 6 event and so have his supporters, with some expressing conspiracy theories about the event contrary to the mainstream narrative. During a May 28 speech in Casper, Trump referred to Jan. 6 as “the insurrection hoax.”
“As one of the leading proponents of the insurrection hoax, Liz Cheney has pushed a grotesquely false, fabricated, hysterical, partisan narrative, and that was the narrative of the day,” he said.
Cheney’s opponent Harriet Hageman has been vaguer on the topic of Jan. 6, saying she is unsure what happened that day, but described the Jan. 6 committee as a witch hunt.
At least one of her supporters agree.
“I hate to break it to you, but most of us feel like it was a peaceful protest that was set-up by our own federal government to look like a coup,” said Cara Peterson, a Johnson County Republican Committeewoman, in an email discussing Eathorne’s presence at the event. “Trying to discredit Frank Eathorne by scarily alluding to mysterious January 6th activities just makes you look like a hated liberal Biden-ite.”
How much Trump is brought up during the committee meeting is yet to be seen. He has not been connected to any formal planning of the Jan. 6 protests, but in March, the select committee said it had evidence that Trump and allies engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” by trying to block Congress from certifying the election.
Cheney said she sees her role on the committee as a matter of defending democracy and holding people responsible for their attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. For her actions, Cheney has lost ties with many congressional members of the Republican Party and her constituent base. She also lost her post in the House Republican leadership.
“We have too many people now in the Republican Party who are not taking their responsibilities seriously, and who have pledged their allegiance and loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cheney said. “I mean, it is fundamentally antithetical, it is contrary to everything conservatives believe, to embrace a personality cult. And yet, that is what so many in my party are doing today.”
The committee issued a subpoena to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) but he is refusing to testify. He recently received a formal endorsement from Trump in his reelection campaign.
In her interview with CBS, Cheney said it’s McCarthy’s fear of blowback that is leading him to defend Trump.
“I think some of it is fear,” Cheney replied. “I think it’s also craven political calculation. I think that he has decided that, you know, the most important thing to him is to attempt to be Speaker of the House. And therefore, he is embracing those in our party who are anti-Semitic; he is embracing those in our party who are white nationalists; he is lying about what happened on January 6; and he’s turned his back on the Constitution.”
In a Jan. 13, 2021 speech, McCarthy said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
Later, McCarthy opposed the formation of the commission to investigate Jan. 6. He subsequently attacked the committee and stripped Cheney of her position. McCarthy referred to the committee as “political theater” on Tuesday.
The event is being broadcast nationally at 6 p.m. Thursday, a contrast to the typical daytime slot when most hearings usually take place.
During the interview, Cheney said she routinely receives guidance from her father and former Vice President Dick Cheney. She also brought up her great-great-grandfather Samuel Fletcher Cheney, who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, as a point of inspiration to her commitment to the country.
“We are absolutely in a moment where we have to make a decision about whether we’re gonna put our love of this country above partisanship. And, to me, there’s just no gray area in that question.
“Every American should be able to say, ‘We love our country more.'”
Cheney was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for allegedly inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol in January, when Congress voted to certify the election. She is one of just two Republicans who has chosen to serve on the House’s January 6 Committee.
The Jan. 6 investigation has involved thousands of witness interviews and document analysis, including communications made by members of the Trump administration, senior Republicans in Congress, and outside organizers of the protest.
It’s not the first time a Wyoming lawmaker has been in a spotlight like this however. Former Sen. Al Simpson gained national attention for his interrogation of Anita Hill in the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas.
Former Wyoming Governor Stan Hathaway also was put in the national spotlight.
Jack Speight, who worked as chief of staff and as attorney for Hathaway, remembers clearly the well-publicized spectacle Hathaway underwent during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Secretary of the Interior under former President Gerald Ford. Hathaway’s appointment was highly contentious as many environmental groups rallied against him, creating what at the time was the second longest confirmation process in history at 71 days.
“The Democrats told the Senate not to accept him,” Speight said.
Hathaway would step down from the position less than two months after taking it due to health reasons.