Jan. 6 probe roils Cheney race in Wyoming
As the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol escalates its inquiry, its actions are reverberating in Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) knife fight of a House primary more than 1,500 miles away.
Cheney, the panel’s vice chair who broke with her party to help lead the committee, is fighting for her political life as Republicans in Wyoming and Washington seethe over her criticism of former President Trump and other Republicans about the insurrection. She will face off in an August primary against attorney Harriet Hageman, who is backed by Trump and his allies.
The race is already anticipated to be among the most contentious in the nation, with Trump vowing to go to war to expel his chief intraparty dissident. And as the Jan. 6 committee’s probe ramps up — with subpoenas inching closer to the former president’s inner circle — so too will Wyoming’s already incendiary primary pitting Cheney against the GOP’s de facto leader.
“I think that the race itself will be really ugly,” said former Campbell County Commissioner Mark Christensen. “I would say probably in the next month or two we’re going to see things get much more aggressive out here.”
The Jan. 6 panel is in the midst of a flurry of activity, filing an avalanche of subpoenas and requests for voluntary testimony from several figures involved in the riot and who were around Trump in the days surrounding it. While the committee has been filing subpoenas for months, they have increasingly begun focusing on those close with the former president.
The group reportedly subpoenaed and obtained phone records associated with Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr. Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, and three other campaign attorneys linked with efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were also recently hit with subpoenas.
Just Thursday, the panel asked Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter and a top White House adviser during his administration, to voluntarily appear before it. And earlier this month, the body’s chairman said he would likely ask former Vice President Mike Pence to also sit with the committee.
Those developments only compound on other high-profile moves in past months, including voting to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt for his refusal to cooperate and fighting in the Supreme Court over documents Donald Trump has sought to conceal.
And with Cheney taking a leading role on the panel, the ongoing stream of subpoenas and other requests opens her up to attacks from Trump’s disgruntled base.
“I certainly think that’s gonna hurt her, especially here in Wyoming where you’ve got an extremely conservative base,” said state Rep. Landon Brown (R), a Cheney ally who believes she still retains an edge in the primary.
“I think this will probably be the bloodiest race in Wyoming’s history.”
The criticisms are setting the stage for what is likely to be a new experience for Cheney — having to survive a tough challenge.
The scion of a famed Republican family, Cheney was first elected to the House in 2016 and quickly rose to become the No. 3 Republican in the chamber while brandishing staunch conservative bona fides.
However, her frequent criticism of Trump over his rhetoric and character throughout his term fueled GOP grumbling. Those complaints exploded after her vote to impeach him over his role in inciting the insurrection, culminating in a vote to remove her from her leadership perch. Calls to completely expel her from the GOP conference grew louder after she accepted Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) invitation to sit on the Jan. 6 panel.
Cheney now finds her political future in peril in her race against Hageman, who already has traveled to all of Wyoming’s 23 counties and has the full backing of Trump — potent support in a state the former president carried by more than 40 points in 2020.
A survey released in December from a little-known pollster showed Hageman leading Cheney by 20 points, and on Saturday, Hageman scored 59 votes in a straw poll of House candidates held by the Wyoming Republican State Central Committee, while Cheney earned six — though such surveys use unscientific methodology and have a track record of not accurately predicting election results in Wyoming.
In the face of it all, Cheney has refused to back down, indicating that she views her role on the committee as a constitutional duty.
“A vote against me in this race, a vote for whomever Donald Trump has endorsed, is a vote for somebody who’s willing to perpetuate the big lie, somebody who’s willing to put allegiance to Trump above allegiance to the Constitution, absolutely,” she said in September, referencing Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories.
Still, incessant media coverage ensures that the Jan. 6 committee’s work will force Cheney to keep defending her position. And while Cheney’s critics boast that the damage to her is done, the unceasing spotlight on her will keep some Republicans’ anger burning bright.
“I think the amount of influence is probably already maxed out as far as the electorate is concerned. But it certainly keeps it in the news and keeps the ire up that is leading to the lack of support for Rep. Cheney,” said state Rep. John Bear (R), who has endorsed Hageman.
Besides accusations that there are political considerations behind the committee’s work, Cheney’s critics also say the panel distracts Wyoming’s sole House member from energy policies — issues that are key to the state’s economy.
“Voters in Wyoming care about Wyoming issues. They care about Joe Biden’s war on their energy economy, they care about inflation in Wyoming,” said one Hageman campaign adviser. “They want an actual representative, and Liz Cheney spends 100 percent of the time talking about Jan. 6.”
The select committee denies its work is intended to harm Trump politically, with a panel spokesperson saying it is “undertaking a nonpartisan, apolitical investigation aimed at uncovering facts and getting answers about a violent attack on American democracy.” Cheney’s campaign is also highlighting legislation she introduced in 2021, including bills to curb the federal government’s ability to place a moratorium on oil and gas leasing and repay states for any lost revenue resulting from such freezes.
On top of that, Cheney’s allies are frustrated by Hageman’s challenge, noting the incumbent’s conservative voting record.
“With the exception of … Trump, I don’t know what else there is to debate,” Christensen said. “If you can find me five policy differences between Harriet Hageman and Liz Cheney, I’ll fall over dead.”
However, even Cheney supporters say she risks having any policy message railroaded by the committee’s inquiry.
“If this thing drags on … I have a fear that everything that she’s been doing for Wyoming is going to get drastically overshadowed by her role on this committee,” said Paul Bertoglio, the chair of the Natrona County Board of Commissioners.
Still, Cheney is not dead in the water.
Her broad name recognition and bank account — she finished September with $3.7 million in the bank — make her formidable. But the road to any possible primary victory will be brutal in a fight against Trump’s base.
“Her stance on Republican values and what she has done for this state are unmatched by just about anybody that’s ever been in that office before,” Brown said. “So, I do think she ekes it out.”
Still, “it’s going to be an ugly fight,” he conceded. “But I do think that it’s going to be a fight worth watching, because it’s going to show the rest of this country what it’s going to look like in another two years when we go to have a presidential race.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.