Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, vice chair of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack, is acting with the urgency of a woman whose days may be numbered. As she stares down the political headwinds of Donald Trump's fury, Cheney's political future is undoubtedly in jeopardy.
But the lion's share of her efforts aren't consumed with trying to save her seat in the House of Representatives. Instead, Cheney is directing every ounce of her firepower at revealing Trump's crimes against the republic in order to neutralize him as a national political force. She may or may not succeed, but she clearly believes it's the only path to saving America's constitutional democracy. As for retaining her seat, that's secondary. Cheney knows a win in 2022 would be nothing more than a short-term blip if Trump is left unchecked to savage the country's future.
What some political observers seem to have missed is that Cheney's audience isn't so much the American people, it's the Department of Justice. Sure, she's a staunch conservative and daughter of a former vice president taking aim at the de facto head of her own party, which should conceivably be front page news in outlets across the country. But no matter how much smoking-gun evidence Cheney and the Jan. 6 committee uncover, the Fox News crowd and YouTube rabbitholers are dead to the factual world. Their views will never change, and roughly two-thirds of them are still convinced Trump was the rightful winner in 2020, despite his year-long drought of producing a single shred of evidence to back his claim. Frankly, Cheney doesn't have the luxury of time to waste on a bunch of brain dead zombies.
Instead, Cheney made her goals perfectly clear this week, signaling that the committee would produce the evidence necessary to find Trump, and perhaps several of his co-conspirators, criminally liable for violating felony statute 18 U.S. Code § 1512. To that end, Cheney used every public platform available to her this week to lay the groundwork for her case.
At Monday's hearing on whether to hold former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt, Cheney said Meadows' testimony was critical to answering this question: "Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes?"
As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake pointed out, Cheney’s language mirrors that of the statute, which states, “Whoever corruptly … obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”
Throughout the week, Cheney also pounded on Trump's three hours of inaction while his shock troops stormed the Capitol in search of his political opponents and disloyal Republicans—chief among them Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his own vice president, Mike Pence.
"For 187 minutes, President Trump refused to act," Cheney said during another hearing on Tuesday. "Let's let that sink in, Madam Speaker. He refused to act when action by our president was required, it was essential, and it was compelled by his oath to our Constitution."
Cheney very memorably read aloud multiple texts sent to Meadows by Fox News personalities, Trump’s own family members, and Republican members of Congress—all urgently pleading with the White House insider to convince Trump to call off the dogs. In other words, those closest to Trump knew exactly who had incited the deadly attack on the U.S. seat of government and who had the singular power to put an end to the siege.
"All urged the president take action because they understood that the President of the United States had a responsibility to call off the mob," Cheney explained. “Hours passed, despite this, without any action by the president. All of these texts are non-privileged, they are texts that Mr. Meadows has turned over. And they are evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty for 187 minutes."
Cheney's choice to feature the texts from Trump's Fox News allies followed by the anonymous texts from GOP members was a masterful manipulation of the press. The discrepancy between the Fox hosts desperate pleas to Meadows and their on-air coverage of Jan. 6 was irresistible for reporters, as was the intrigue surrounding which GOP members communicated with Meadows that day.
But again, justice is Cheney’s real goal, not scoring political points.
Liz Cheney's politics are abhorrent to any self-respecting Democrat and liberal. But she is dead right about one thing: Trump committed a crime against the United States, and he must be held to account by the nation’s justice system. This isn’t political, it’s criminal, and nothing short of American democracy is on the line.
What Cheney clearly knows is that she is in a race against time to complete her mission—amassing enough damning evidence by next year’s midterms to leave the Justice Department no choice but to ultimately investigate and prosecute a former commander-in-chief of the United States of America.
If special counsel Robert Mueller was the Boy Scout who disappointed, Cheney just might be the killer who delivers.