The Wyoming congresswoman, daughter of the former vice president, and vice chair of the committee, outlined for the country, and for history, two contrasting stories about the bloody insurrection.
One was a tale of honor and duty. Officials in the Justice Department and White House, to a greater extent than was previously known, confronted Trump about his election lies and repeatedly threatened to resign if he followed through with his darkest impulses.
The other was a tale of brutality and deceit by Trump and a small band of loyalists. They knew he had lost, and yet, as Cheney put it, “Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated, seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
In perhaps the most chilling moment of the hearing, Cheney spoke of former White House officials’ testimony about Trump’s bloodthirstiness toward his own vice president. “Aware of the rioters’ chants to hang Mike Pence, the president responded with this sentiment, quote, ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence, quote, ‘deserves it.’ ”
With rare exception, Republican officeholders have chosen to side with Trump, who indicated his vice president deserved to be hanged, and who, when begged by his staff to call off the mob, responded: “They’re doing what they should be doing, ”according to committee testimony.
Republican members of Congress forced Cheney out of her party leadership position and are trying to oust her in a primary; they blocked an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6; they attempted to sabotage and then boycotted the “illegitimate” Jan. 6 committee. They have continued to perpetuate the fiction, believed by most Republican voters, that the election was fraudulent — House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday again would not say that President Biden was the legitimate victor — and that the insurrection was but a protest, a tourist visit or “legitimate political discourse.”
Editorial cartoon by Ann Telnaes: Trump has secured his place in history
On Thursday, Cheney got her rebuttal — beamed live in prime time to millions of homes by networks, with the notable exception of Fox News, which thing to shield its viewers from the facts. Over 35 minutes, she delivered a methodical indictment of Trump’s role in planning and fomenting the violence, drawing occasional gasps and murmurs from the media, staff and lawmakers in the room.
Cheney spoke, repeatedly, of those who “honored their oaths of office” and “did their duty,” who saw a “higher duty to the United States Constitution.” And she shamed her colleagues who have so plainly ignored theirs. “We don’t wear an oath to an individual or a political party,” she said. “We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution, and that oath must mean something.”
And she spoke of those without honor.
Trump, according to his own former aides’ testimony, “did not really want to put anything out calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave.” Trump refused for hours the demands of his staff, family and others to “instruct his supporters to stand down.” He offered to appoint Justice Department official Jeff Clark to the position of attorney general if Clark would send a department letter to states falsely claiming to have “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election.”
Cheney spoke, too, of Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.) and other Republican congressmen who she said “sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.” She spoke of Jared Kushner dismissing threats by the White House counsel to resign on principle as “whining.” And she spoke of Trump meeting secretly in the White House with his enablers — Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and others — who floated the idea of the military seizing voting machines.
They might have gotten away with it, too, if other Trump aides and appointees hadn’t honored their duty to country and oaths of office. Cheney described how these Trump officials — White House counsel Pat Cipollone, acting attorney general Jeff Rosen, acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue — pushed back. She described the many advisers telling Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, that their allegations were “complete nonsense,” or that “there’s no there there.” And she recounted Pence’s brave stand against Trump — and for the Constitution — on Jan. 6.
Even Fox News’s Sean Hannity tried to stop the madness, in a text to Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany: “Hey now, no more crazy people, no more stolen election talk. Yes, impeachment and 25th amendment are real. Many people will quit.”
Replied McEnany: “Love that. That’s the playbook.”
It’s beyond the Jan. 6 committee’s mandate to explain how so many people who began with honorable instincts ultimately retired to join Trump. And there is probably no convincing them, nor the tens of millions they have deceived, to correct course now. But the committee’s work gives hope that the dishonorable will, at least, earn history’s rebuke.