Allan Ryskind: Liz Cheney's Big Lie Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (Getty Images)
By Allan Ryskind | Monday, 12 September 2022 11:40 AM EDT
When Liz Cheney was picked by Nancy Pelosi to serve as vice-chair of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, the Wyoming lawmaker launched one of her biggest lies.
Cheney said she took the job to ensure the committee would achieve its goal of conducting a "nonpartisan, professional and thorough investigation" of the Capitol riots.
But her time on the panel has not been nonpartisan, professional or thorough.
From the very start, she helped load the scales against Donald Trump. At no time did Cheney bother to act judiciously or fairly.
She came to the Select Committee with the mindset of a hanging judge. Before the panel had completed its investigation, she charged that what Trump did on Jan. 6 was both unconstitutional and illegal." She knew from its inception that the panel had been heavily stacked by Pelosi against anyone who believed that Trump was not guilty of a crime, even though many distinguished jurists thought the case against Trump was non-existent.
Two liberal publications, the Washington Post and the New York Times — institutions that loathe the former president — took that exact position in their news stories. Instead of finding him guilty of any criminal conduct, they found him innocent of all the serious charges that Liz Cheney and her Democrat allies had insisted he had broken.
No matter. Cheney not only brazenly tilted facts to put Trump behind bars, but in this crucial election year, she began working overtime to purge from public office several conservative GOP lawmakers who also don't believe that the former president committed a crime. If successful, of course, her actions will widen the Democrat majority in both the Senate and the House.
Here's a reminder on how Cheney collaborated with Pelosi to transform the Jan. 6 Select Committee into the kangaroo court that it became. Under its rules, the speaker was given complete authority, without the need to consult any Republican, to appoint eight of its members. She chose all eight of the Democrats, each in the anti-Trump camp. The minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, was permitted to appoint five, but only with the speaker's consent. The first Republican chosen by Pelosi to serve on the Select Committee was Cheney, who had already claimed the president was guilty of criminal conduct. She never disagreed with Pelosi on any of her demonstrably partisan tactics. Nor did she take issue with Pelosi when the only other Republican she chose was Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who, along with Cheney, had voted for Trump's impeachment.
More major Pelosi stacking was to come. On July 21, 2020, the speaker blocked two of McCarthy's choices, Republicans Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jim Banks (Ind.) — both of whom supported Trump's decision to contest the election. This action was perfectly legal, had been done by Democrats several times in this century, was vigorously defended by Nancy Pelosi and could have made John Kerry president in 2005. (See Karl Rove's Sept. 18 splendid history lesson in the Wall Street Journal.)
Cheney had a chance to partially redeem herself with her Republican colleagues by coming to McCarthy's defense and telling Pelosi that the Jan. 6 committee would never be viewed as an impartial body if it didn't permit any pro-Trump lawmakers as participants. But the vice chair was in no mood to be conciliatory. Instead, she rushed to issue a statement on the Capitol steps, remarking: "I agree with what the speaker has done." Translated, she agreed with her decision to make it impossible for the ex-president to get a fair hearing.
Even the New York Times thought Cheney had abused her authority. In a front page story, the Times told its readers that the committee is employing prosecutorial techniques "typically used against mobsters and terrorists" as it seeks to "develop evidence that could prompt a criminal case" against Trump and his allies. The Times then pointedly noted that the Select Committee "has no authority to pursue criminal charges."
Cheney has never stopped twisting the facts to get Trump indicted, even though she has never produced the tiniest piece of evidence to support her magnificent obsession. She recently maintained that Trump, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, were all conspiring to forcibly overthrow the U.S. government. The Wall Street Journal, which has relentlessly trashed Trump's "stolen election" theory, said her "seditious conspiracy" accusation was in no way persuasive and that Cheney "offered no evidence" (emphasis added) that Trump had communicated directly with either group. Surely that tells us all we need to know about Cheney's "character," a word she says too many other Republicans lack.
The Washington Post completed a remarkable report back in January quoting distinguished prosecutors, defense lawyers, law professors and judges on whether our country's former chief executive would be criminally charged for any of his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 — or even on days leading up to that event.
The Post didn't think so. Did Trump prompt the crowd marching to the Capitol to engage in violence, as so many Americans believe? "(T)here is no evidence," the Post stressed, "that he knew they planned to storm the building." (repeat: "no evidence.") Indeed, the record distinctly shows that Trump repeatedly told the portion of the crowd that was marching to the Capitol to go peacefully.
The Post raised major doubts that Trump could even be prosecuted for demanding that Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, come up with enough votes to overcome Biden's lead in the Peach state. "I just wanted to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump told Raffensperger. Even "Ever Trumpers" found this language disturbing. He might have been vulnerable to federal criminal prosecution if he had let that "request" stand. But he added this mitigating comment which his enemies usually omit: "Because we won the state."
Credible legal authorities told the Times and the Post that if the president genuinely believed the election was stolen it would be hard to charge him with a crime for contesting the outcome.
"The key to pretty much all these crimes he's been accused of," former federal prosecutor Randall Ellison told the Post, "would be proving corrupt intent." But there would be no corrupt intent if Trump could argue there was an overload of seemingly credible election fraud to challenge a Biden victory and that his key legal adviser on elections had told him that Vice President Mike Pence could deny Biden the presidency. (The adviser, John Eastman, had said that Pence had that authority. Pence, famously, repudiated Eastman's advice.)
Other constitutional experts interviewed by the Times, another powerful anti-Trump publication, thought it would be difficult to prove he violated any laws dealing with the chaos that occurred on Jan. 6. Daniel L. Zelenko, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor, sided with Ellison. "The key," he told the Times, "is having contemporaneous evidence that Trump knew the election was not stolen but tried to stay in power anyway." Samuel W. Buell, a Duke University law professor, made the same case. "You need to show" he also told the Times, "that he knew what he was doing was wrongful and had no legal basis." No such evidence has materialized, though that hasn't deterred Cheney from obsessing with ways to put Trump in an orange jump suit.
Every Republican knows what the stakes are in the November elections. The House is barely — but clearly — controlled by the Democrats as passage of the multi-billion dollar "Inflation Reduction Act" reveals. The final vote was 220 to 207, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed.
The Democrats in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, carried the day when Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote for the Administration.
But Cheney has become so vengeful that her current tactics are not only focused on Trump but every Republican who doesn't roundly condemn him. She claims she still holds Republican values but is doing everything she can to give the Democrats a boost and hinder the effort by GOP party stalwarts to increase their margins in the Congress. Her assault against her party is providing the Democrats with an abundance of verbal ammunition that Democrats will almost certainly deploy to defeat the Republicans in November. She has already accused GOP lawmakers of palling around with "anti-semites" and "enemies" of the U.S. Constitution for failing to embrace her view that Trump is guilty of criminal conduct.
She insists the GOP leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, is too ignorant of the Constitution to hold public office. She has harshly criticized Republicans who thought investigations should be made of significant vote fraud allegations before Congress formally approved the Biden delegations for president. In her zeal to strike back at her own party for ignoring her advice, she has issued a fatwa against three prominent Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate and a well-known governor: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
And it looks as if she's eager to hurl similar broadsides against other GOP lawmakers whom she regards as soft on the former president.
Cheney has shown she's willing to falsify the case against Republicans she dislikes. She has bitterly assailed Cruz as if he had embraced Trump's assertion that the election was stolen. Cruz never said it was. He did call for a 10-day investigation of significant fraud allegations prior to certification of Biden delegates by the Congress. But on Jan. 23, 2021 — almost two years ago — Cruz condemned Trump's claims as "reckless and irresponsible" since he was relying on speculation and had never produced any proof.
No apologies from Cheney, naturally.
Her outburst against Gov. DeSantis was especially puzzling. Unlike Cheney, DeSantis thinks the best way to return the country to sound Republican policies that Cheney says she still embraces — she voted for Trump's policies 93 percent of the time — is to expand the conservative Republican influence in Congress. But asked if she could support the Florida governor for the presidency, she immediately nixed the idea.
Had the governor joined Trump in insisting the election was stolen? No. Had he challenged presidential delegates who had been awarded to Biden? No evidence of that has come to light. His unforgivable sin? She assailed him for campaigning for GOP candidates whom she accused of being "election deniers." According to her broad definition, that means every Republican who may not share her minority view in the legal community that Trump should go to jail for what occurred on Jan. 6.
If Republicans follow her lead, the Democrats would be more likely to keep control of the Senate and the House in November, with a larger margin in both chambers and the defeat of a core of solid GOP office holders — some of whom have an excellent chance of winning the White House in 2024. Wyoming Republicans wisely turned against her, but she can still cause a great deal of harm.
The final report of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, with Cheney determined to play a major role, is expected to come out closer to the election. The report is likely to be a document that will savage both Trump and scores of Republican lawmakers for what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. Cheney will then make sure that the most damning charges, whether true or false, are spread nationwide by the Democrats' media allies. If the Republicans do poorly this fall, the Democrats should toss a Hollywood-style party for Liz.
Allan H. Ryskind, a columnist and former editor and owner of Human Events, is the author of "Hollywood Traitors" (Regnery, 2015), a book on how the Communist Party attempted to seize the movie industry.