TRANSCRIPT: ABC News' Jonathan Karl interviews Rep. Liz Cheney

The exclusive interview with Rep. Cheney took place on August 19, 2022.

ByABC News
August 21, 2022, 8:59 AM

On Friday, August 19, 2022, ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent and This Week Co-Anchor Jonathan Karl interviewed Rep. Liz Cheney. The following is a transcript of the interview (this transcript has been edited for clarity):

JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us back here in Washington. So your loss was -- obviously, you've known for a long time you were going to lose. When did you first get a sense that it was going to happen?

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Well, I think that it was clear really from, you know, the beginning, the moment that I voted to impeach, that there, you know, were going to be potential political consequences.

And I clearly could have achieved, again, you know, the 73 percent victory that I had in the primary the last time around, but to do that would have required things I wasn't willing to do. It would have required embracing the lie about the election; it would have required enabling that. And I just simply wasn't willing to do that.

So you know, at each moment, I knew that I had to do what was right. And I knew that the obligation of elected officials to abide by our oath, has to be more important than party, than partisanship, or than any political office.

KARL: And this wasn't just losing a House seat. I mean, you were considered -- you were in leadership. You were considered a future speaker of the House, a potential future -- maybe even the next speaker of the House. It's a lot to give up on (ph). Any regrets?

CHENEY: No regrets. You know, I feel -- I feel sad about where my party is. I feel sad about the way that too many of my colleagues have responded to what I think is a great moral test and challenge of our time, a great -- a great moment to determine whether or not people are going to stand up on behalf of the democracy and on behalf of our republic.

And so, it does make me sad that so many people have failed the test but, certainly, no regrets. I mean, to me, there's just never been any question about what was the right way to operate here and the right thing to do.

KARL: How did your family react, your kids, your dad?

CHENEY: They were all -- you know, I think everybody, again, has known how this was likely to end up. They've been just incredibly supportive and proud. And as a mother, of course, it's a really moving thing.

But they also -- they help you keep your perspective. I mean, my youngest son, when I got home after the last Select Committee hearing at the end of July, I walked in the door and he said to me, you know, Mom, listen, you've just been great. It's been wonderful, I'm so proud of you. But can we please now focus? Because I need a learner's permit.

(LAUGHTER)

OK, I got it.

KARL: And I understand you heard from President Biden. Did you -- did you hear from anybody else notable? President Bush, did he call you?

CHENEY: I did hear from President Biden. We had a very -- a very good talk, a talk about the importance of putting the country ahead of partisanship. And I've heard from a number of other people, as you can imagine, over the course of the last several days.

KARL: And (ph) some of your Republican colleagues here in Congress?

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: Some, yeah.

KARL: Some that don't want to be named, maybe? Or --

CHENEY: Some.

(LAUGHTER)

No, I mean, look, I think that there are a number of my colleagues who have done the right thing. I would put, certainly, those of us who voted to impeach in that category; a number of others who expressed the view that, you know, they are supportive, they wish they would have done the right thing; and many others who, you know, have simply chosen another path.

KARL: There were 10 of you that chose to vote to impeach. That's a bond, right? I mean, first of all, you're always going to be seen as a group. Did you hear from -- did you hear from them after you lost?

CHENEY: Yeah.

KARL: All of them?

CHENEY: Yep.

KARL: And describe that bond, because I imagine that's going to last long after you leave Congress.

CHENEY: Yeah, I mean look, I think that it is a bond. It's a bond, and we've talked about it. You know --

KARL: Yeah.

CHENEY: We have difference of opinion -- differences of opinion, among the 10 of us, about a whole range of issues -- of other issues. But the fact that we all made the decision we did and have faced the consequences for that decision will be a bond, I would imagine, forever.

KARL: What does your defeat say about Trump's hold on the Republican Party?

CHENEY: Well, it says, I think, that clearly his hold is very strong among some portions of the Republican Party. You know, my state of Wyoming is not necessarily a representative sample of the party --

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: It's the -- arguably, the most Republican, most --

CHENEY: Right.

KARL: -- pro-Trump state in the union.

CHENEY: Right, exactly. And I think it says a couple of things.

I think, one, it says that people continue to believe the lie. They continue to believe what he's saying, which is very dangerous. I think it also tells you that large portions of our party, including the leadership of our party, both at a state level in Wyoming as well as on a national level with the RNC, is very sick.

And that you know, we really have got to decide whether or not we're going to be a party based on substance and policy or whether we're going to remain, as so many of our party are today, in the grips of a dangerous former president.

KARL: In addition to Trump's gloating about your loss, his spokesperson said, “She may be fighting -- she may have been fighting for principles, but they are not the principles of the Republican Party.”

I mean, arguably, he's right. Isn't he?

CHENEY: Well, doesn't that tell you something?

You know, what I'm fighting for is the Constitution. What I'm fighting for is a perpetuation of the republic. What I'm fighting for is the rule of law, the fact that everybody's got to abide by the rule of law.

What I'm fighting for is the fact that elections have to matter and that, when the election is over, and the courts have ruled and the Electoral College has met, that the president of the United States has to respect the results of the election. What I'm fighting for is the principle that we have a peaceful transition of power and that we don't determine the -- who rules based upon violence.

And if Donald Trump's spokesman says that those are principles that are inconsistent with Donald Trump's views and inconsistent with the Republican Party's views, I think ought to give every American pause about who Donald Trump is and about what the Republican Party stands for today.

KARL: So this is obviously not the end, this is a new beginning for you. You're starting this political organization. What can you tell us? What are you going to do?

CHENEY: Well, several things. First of all, obviously, we have tremendous work left to do on the Select Committee, tremendous work left to do as Wyoming's representative in Congress.

Also, I'm going to be very focused on working to ensure that we do everything we can not to elect election deniers. I think that they -- we've got election deniers that have been nominated for really important positions all across the country. And I'm going to work against those people, I'm going to work to support their opponents; I think it matters that much.

And I'm also going to spend a lot of time doing everything I can to help educate the American people about what happened. And I think our hearings have been a tremendous contribution to that.

And I think it's really important for people -- you know, really, across the political spectrum, of all ages -- to understand and recognize why what happened after the last election can never happen again.

KARL: So will you be getting -- I mean, you're -- I mean, you are now the most high-profile critic of Donald Trump in the country, I would argue. That gives you a platform.

You've got this political organization. You can raise a lot of money through that. Will you be getting involved in campaigns against those Republican candidates that are challenging or denying the results of the election?

CHENEY: Yes.

KARL: Including your Republican colleagues here in Congress?

CHENEY: Yes.

KARL: Is the country better or worse off if Kevin McCarthy is the next speaker of the House?

CHENEY: Well, my views about Kevin McCarthy are very clear. The speaker of the House is the second in line for the presidency. It requires somebody who understands and recognizes their duty, their oath, their obligation.

And he's been completely unfaithful to the Constitution and demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the significance and the importance of the role of speaker. So I don't believe he should be speaker of the House. And you know, I think that's been very clear.

KARL: So it sounds like that's a yes. You think the country would be worse off if he were speaker of the House.

CHENEY: I don't believe he should be speaker of the House.

KARL: You told me a little over a year ago that you didn't think Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination again. You said there are millions and millions of Republicans that wouldn't let that happen.

Do you still believe that? I mean, right now, he looks like the overwhelming frontrunner.

CHENEY: Yeah. I think -- I think we have to make sure that he is not our nominee. I do believe that there are millions of Republicans out there, and independents and Democrats as well.

And I think that, you know, I believe in Republican policies. I believe, if you think about where the country needs to go, what's best for our nation, I believe in a strong national defense; certainly, today more than ever, we need that to confront the threats we face.

I believe in low taxes. I believe in limited government. I believe the family should be the center of our lives in our communities. Those are traditional Republican values, and I believe that's what we need going into the future.

I think that we have no chance at winning elections if we are in a position where our party has abandoned principle, and abandoned value and abandoned fundamental fidelity of the Constitution, in order to embrace a cult of personality. And I think that's really dangerous for a whole bunch of reasons.

KARL: But is the threat Trump or is it bigger than Trump? I mean, you could argue that Trumpism, in terms of the election denying and all of that, is -- has taken over the party. I mean, would Ron DeSantis be any better than Donald Trump?

CHENEY: Donald Trump is certainly the center of the threat. And I think that, you know, what he's done and what he's created is a movement on some level that is post-truth. And I think that, you know, certainly social media has added to that.

But election denial, denying a fundamental function and principle, you know, the -- what is at the center of our constitutional republic -- is dangerous, broadly speaking. And he is certainly leading that effort and leading that movement.

And he also, because -- we know precisely what he will do, because he has done it. You know, sending an armed mob here to the Capitol to try to overturn the results of an election. There's just simply no way that the nation can, in my view, sustain itself if we excuse that and put him in a position of power again.

KARL: If January 6th can't convince Republicans to reject Donald Trump, what can?

CHENEY: Well, I think as a nation, whether we're Republicans or Democrats or independents, we all have to reject that. And I believe that there is a coalition of people across the party spectrum who understand, and we've certainly seen it on our committee.

We've seen it around the country, people who understand we can agree that there are certain issues we're never going to agree on politically, but we have to come together, you know, across those party lines in order to protect ourselves against that kind of threat.

KARL: So you’ve said you're going to work against election deniers. If it's not Trump and if it's -- if it's somebody like Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, these are all people that have tied themselves very closely to Trump, will you oppose them? Could you see yourself supporting any of them?

CHENEY: It would be very difficult. I think that a fundamental -- a fundamental question for me in terms of whether or not someone is fit to be president is whether they've abided by their constitutional obligations in the past.

And I think, certainly, when you look at somebody like Josh Hawley or somebody like Ted Cruz, both of whom know better -- both of whom know exactly what the role of Congress is in terms of our constitutional obligations with respect to presidential elections -- and yet, both of whom took steps that fundamentally threatened the constitutional order and structure in the aftermath of the last election.

So in my view, they both have made themselves unfit for future office.

KARL: What about DeSantis?

CHENEY: Look, I think that DeSantis is somebody who is, right now, campaigning for election deniers. And I think that, you know, that is something that I think people have got to have real pause about. You know, either you fundamentally believe in and will support our constitutional structure, or you don't.

KARL: So you've said that you're going to think about running for president. What factors are you considering?

CHENEY: Well, I'm not -- I'm not going to, sort of, walk through now, you know, what's happening next and what's coming next.

I'm really going to be -- I'm focused on this from the perspective of substance, and I really think the country faces grave threats.

And that's -- you know, as I sort of go through finishing my work here in Congress over the next several months and making a decision about how I can best help to ensure that we right our political ship, you know, I'll make decisions about what comes next.

KARL: I'm sure you've seen people saying, well, you know, it would be a total longshot, but it could be an important campaign as a message campaign.

But if you ran for president, would you be running to send a message or would you be running to win?

CHENEY: No. Look, you run for president because you believe you would be the best -- the best candidate, because you believe you'd be the best president of the United States. And so, any decision that I make about doing something that significant and that serious would be with the intention of winning and because I think I would be the best candidate.

KARL: Would your path be inside the Republican Party or outside the Republican Party?

CHENEY: I haven't made any specific decisions or plans about that at this point.

KARL: So running as an independent is a possibility? Is it (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: -- one of the things you're thinking about?

CHENEY: I'm not going to go down that path anymore in terms of speculating.

KARL: It sounds like once --

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: Today.

(LAUGHTER)

KARL: Today. But you're thinking about it?

CHENEY: No. I mean, look. I'm really very focused. We have a huge amount of work to do.

You and I are sitting here in the Cannon Caucus Room. We have a huge amount of work left to do with respect to the Select Committee, and I have really important work left to do representing Wyoming for the next several months. And that is really my focus, and I will make decisions about what comes next after that.

KARL: It sounds like the RNC is already trying to figure out ways to keep you out. You know, there's this idea that to get into any debate you have to promise that you would support the eventual nominee.

I mean, that's obviously not going to happen. You're not going to do that.

CHENEY: I can understand why they would not want me on a debate stage with Donald Trump.

KARL: What would that be like?

CHENEY: I can understand why they wouldn't want it, and I would imagine Donald Trump isn't too interested in that either.

KARL: So let's talk about the committee. You put out a statement almost -- I think it was 18 months ago or so, right after January 6th. And you said, the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president.

It's striking to me; you haven't deviated one bit from that. I mean, we've learned a lot of new -- but that is exactly where you are now.

CHENEY: Even --

KARL: And that was right after the attack on the Capitol --

CHENEY: Yeah. I mean, look, it was -- it was clear to me, as I was being evacuated from the House floor that day, that Donald Trump had to be impeached. I think he should have been convicted and removed from office, and everything that we've learned since then has only made that more clear.

I understood -- I understood his responsibility for what had happened. I didn't understand how broad, and deep, and widespread, and sophisticated the effort was to overturn the election.

And I think you've seen in the work of our committee and in particular in the witnesses that have testified that, you know, essentially every senior Republican -- whether they were in the Justice Department, whether they were in his White House counsel's office, whether they were on his own campaign -- told him the election was not stolen, the election was not rigged. Went through chapter and verse of examples for him about how the claims he was making were false.

We also have learned that he knew that the crowd was armed and that he sent them to the Capitol, that he wanted to come here himself and that he was attempting to, you know, delay the official proceeding of Congress, attempting to obstruct the counting of electoral votes.

And of course, when the attack was underway -- we now know very specifically what he was doing while the attack was happening. We know, very specifically, family members, again, White House counsel, senior leaders across the cabinet were pleading with him to call off his mob, to send them home. And he wouldn't do it.

And so, all of that only makes, you know, more clear what, you know, was evident already on the day of the attack.

KARL: One of the key figures here is obviously Mike Pence. He said this week he's willing -- or willing to consider testifying if he is asked. Are you going to ask him?

CHENEY: So we've been in discussions with his counsel. And I didn't see his specific comments this week, but it sounds like they were pretty similar to what his counsel has been saying.

And I think, you know, look, he played a critical role on January 6th. If he had succumbed to the pressure that Donald Trump was putting on him, we would have had a much worse constitutional crisis.

And I think that he has clearly, as he's expressed, concerns about executive privilege, which -- you know, I have tremendous respect. I think it's, you know, a hugely important constitutional issue in terms of separation of powers. I believe in executive privilege. I think it matters.

But I also think that when the country has been through something as grave as this was, everyone who has information has an obligation to step forward. So I would hope that he will do that.

KARL: So you think we'll see him here in September in this room --

CHENEY: I would hope that --

KARL: -- before the committee?

CHENEY: Well, I would hope that he will understand how important it is for the American people to know every aspect of the truth about what happened that day.

KARL: What about Trump? Before you wrap up, will you ask him to testify?

CHENEY: I don't want to make any announcements about that this morning. So let me just -- let me just leave it there.

KARL: But it's possible you would ask him, before wrapping up, to testify?

CHENEY: Yeah. I mean, I don't -- again, I don't want to get in front of committee deliberations about that. I do think it's very important, as I said in the first hearing or the second hearing, you know, his interactions with our committee will be under oath.

KARL: Yeah. The Mar-A-Lago raid -- or the execution of the search warrant by the FBI in Mar-A-Lago, what was your reaction when you first heard about that?

CHENEY: That it's a very serious thing. I think that when you think about the fact that we were in a position where the FBI, the Department of Justice, felt the need to execute a search warrant at the home of a former president, that's a really serious thing for the nation.

I was ashamed to hear Republicans immediately and reflexively attack the FBI agents who executed a search warrant. I, you know, was disgusted when I learned that President Trump had released the names of those agents when he released the unredacted search warrant.

And that has now caused violence, we've seen threats of violence. The judge, himself, the synagogue had to cancel services because of threats of violence. This is a really dangerous moment.

And to see the president -- the former president of the United States, my colleagues, stoking the flames of that instead of saying we need to learn to facts, we need to learn the evidence, we need to learn the information about what happened.

You know, that's what -- those who really support law enforcement, that's what we're saying: we need to understand the facts, the evidence and the information.

To jump reflexively to attack law enforcement and to say then, you know, well, we back the blue, but we're going to attack these people for doing their job.

You know, I think the American people see what hypocrisy that is and it's dangerous hypocrisy.

KARL: At the heart of the -- of those attacks from your fellow Republicans on the FBI and on DOJ is the idea that this was politically motivated. Marco Rubio said they were looking for an excuse to go through -- you know, to raid Mar-a-Lago.

Rand Paul said they were going to plant evidence -- they might have planted evidence.

Are you entirely confident that there was no political motivation behind this by the Biden administration or by the attorney general?

CHENEY: I've seen no evidence that there was any political motivation. And if you look at what, you know, President Trump and his supporters have said, if you look at their series of, sort of, explanations, they began by saying, you know, well, evidence is going to be planted.

KARL: Yes.

CHENEY: And then, they released the search warrant with the names of the FBI agents.

And then, they said, well, actually we had a standing order to declassify things -- which, by the way, is directly at odds with the first thing they said, which was that evidence had been planted.

You've now got, you know, the judge reviewing whether or not the affidavit or portions of it will be released. I think that will provide us additional information.

It sounds to me from watching the news reports that they're acting responsibly in terms of determining what has to be redacted and what can be released.

But it also seems to be the case that there were clearly ongoing efforts to get back whatever this information was and that it was not presented -- you know, that the former president was unwilling to give back these materials.

Now, we will see. We'll learn more. But you know, it's a really serious thing. And I just think that for us as a party to be in a position where we're reflexively attacking career law enforcement professionals in order to defend a former president who conducted himself the way this one did is -- it's a really sad day for the party.

KARL: Could it be that his handling of government records, classified information, that that could be what brings Donald Trump down after all of this?

CHENEY: I mean, look, we'll see -- everyone has an obligation and a responsibility. And you know, clearly, the handling of that information is something that's really serious.

So I don't know all of the aspects of why the search warrant was executed, certainly. But we'll see as additional information comes out.

KARL: And then -- and then, last question. The Republicans have said that they're going to use their subpoena power to subpoena all the records of the January 6th Committee. They're going to have their own investigation, suggesting an investigation of the investigation.

Are you concerned about that? And do you expect that all the material -- you got so much material -- the full interview transcripts, the records from the National Archive. Are you going to make all of that -- is the committee going to make all that public anyway?

CHENEY: Yesah, it's all public record. It will be -- it will be available publicly as our investigation is wraps up and concludes.

And if Kevin McCarthy, or Jim Jordan or any of the other individuals threatening to investigate the committee carry through on that threat and issue a subpoena for me to appear, I will abide by that subpoena. And I will welcome the opportunity to come and explain to them exactly what we found and the threat that Donald Trump poses to the country.

And I would say, you know, they ought to do the same. They are all completely shirking their obligations and their responsibility to come and testify about what they know. And I think that, again, that's an abdication of their responsibility under the Constitution.

KARL: Aright., Liz Cheney, thank you very much.

CHENEY: Thanks, Jon, good to be with you.

KARL: Appreciate it. Good to be with you.

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