Rep. Liz Cheney criticizes 'disgraceful' GOP attempts to 'whitewash' Capitol attack

Cheney talked with ABC's "This Week" shortly after the GOP voted to replace her.

May 16, 2021, 9:12 AM

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Friday it was "indefensible" that some House Republicans have minimized the Jan. 6 riot and downplayed violence between Capitol Police officers and former President Donald Trump's supporters who attempted to disrupt the congressional count of the 2020 election results.

"The notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable," Cheney said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" Co-Anchor Jonathan Karl. "I won't be part of whitewashing what happened on Jan. 6. Nobody should be a part of it and people ought to be held accountable."

At a Wednesday House hearing, several Republicans dismissed the storming of the U.S. Capitol, which led to the death of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.

"It was not an insurrection," said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga. "If you didn't know that TV footage was a video from (Jan. 6), you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit."

Cheney, who was replaced Friday as the House GOP conference chair, said she has spoken repeatedly to the mother of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died after clashing with protesters, and Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who suffered numerous injuries battling rioters outside the Capitol.

The Wyoming Republican recalled her experience on the House floor as the Capitol was under siege.

"(Democratic Rep.) Jamie Raskin was sitting on the other side of the aisle and you could hear the mob coming, and he looked at me and showed me his phone and said, 'Liz, there's a Confederate flag flying in the Rotunda,'" she said. "And that moment of, you know, this cannot be happening in the United States of America."

PHOTO: Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
ABC News

"I think everybody understood after that, that it could not be happening, and that it could not happen again and that people had to be held accountable," she added. "It is disgraceful that so many Republicans since then have tried to sort of whitewash or gloss over what happened."

When Cheney first worried about Trump rejecting election results

While Trump spent years sowing doubts about the election results -- and even raised the possibility that he wouldn't accept the results in 2016 had he lost to Hillary Clinton -- Cheney told Karl that Trump's unwillingness to abide by a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election "was certainly a concern" for her.

"After the (Dec. 14 electoral college vote), it became very clear in very concerning ways that Donald Trump was willing to do potentially anything to stay in office," Cheney said.

She said her fears grew when Trump's campaign attorneys refused to argue in court the claims of fraud his key surrogates, including attorney Rudy Giuliani, were making in public.

"You can begin to see the real danger, between what they were attempting to do in terms of making these claims, lying to the American people and the press conferences, and what had actually happened, what they were actually claiming -- and I think that that was a moment of recognizing real danger," Cheney said.

Cheney defends greeting Biden at speech to Congress

The Wyoming Republican pushed back against criticism of her greeting President Joe Biden when he addressed Congress from the House chamber on April 28.

"I will always, no matter who the president is, always greet them," she said. "That is the place we have to get back to, understanding that we ought to be having really close battles about policy."

PHOTO: Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
ABC News

"I'm willing to put that up against theirs and have that debate on substance, and recognize they are not our enemies," she continued. "They're our political opponents, and we've got to be able to win that debate and stop some of the really vitriolic hatred that has been characteristic of so much of our politics recently."

Cheney also criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for the campaign text message he sent to supporters after his infrastructure meeting with Biden and congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday, which referred to the president as "corrupt Joe Biden."

"It's unserious behavior," Cheney said. "That is not the way to go about actually getting a bipartisan agreement. It's also true that the White House has been saying they want bipartisanship but not very willing to actually take any Republican ideas into account."

A run for president

Cheney has thrown her full weight behind blocking an attempt by Trump to return to the Oval Office and scoffed at members of her conference who have predicted a Trump 2024 victory.

She told Karl that Rep. Jim Jordan's prediction that Trump is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination and the presidency if he chooses to run is "wrong."

"Jim has been wrong before, and I'm sure it won't be the last time," Cheney said of the Ohio Republican. "But he is wrong. And I think there are millions and millions of Republicans who won't let that happen again."

Cheney has not ruled out a presidential run of her own if that's what it takes to keep Trump from reclaiming the White House in 2024.

"I think we have to get back to the days where we're able to say to people that this is the greatest nation on Earth, and policies that help defend or protect freedom are the ones that are the right ones for us," Cheney said. "And I'm going to be part of doing that ... and making sure that Donald Trump isn't our nominee in any way I can."

But for now, Cheney said she's focused on her reelection effort in Wyoming. It could prove a difficult cycle for the state's sole member of the House of Representatives.

Cheney has branded herself an opponent of the former president in a state that voted overwhelmingly for him. Seventy percent of Wyoming's vote went to Trump in 2020.

ABC's "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz traveled to Wyoming, where she spoke to many of Cheney's constituents including Dennis Laughlin, a Harley-Davidson dealership owner in Green River, Wyoming, who said Cheney is falling in popularity.

"I think voting your conscience is noble. But not necessarily the best move that you can make for your political career," Laughlin said. "The vast majority of people in the state of Wyoming are not happy with her decision."

Cheney knows her vote to impeach Trump is not popular with many of her constituents, but she said she's committed to making sure voters in her state understand her reasoning and where she believes the party can be headed with the right guidance.

"The people of Wyoming fundamentally believe in the Constitution and faithfulness to it and our oath," Cheney said. "If the choice is between somebody that Donald Trump decides he's going to anoint and that person's basis for being in this race is their loyalty to some person, to Donald Trump, every day of the week I will stack my record and my commitment to the Constitution and my commitment to people of Wyoming up against that."

Cheney is confident in her political future. And if she does make a presidential bid, she told Karl she's got at least one high-profile politician backing her: her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

PHOTO: Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks with ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in Washington, May 14, 2021.
ABC News

Karl asked Cheney if her father would like to see her run.

"Well, yeah," Cheney said. "He's my dad, he's not objective."

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