WASHINGTON — Rep. Liz Cheney launched a blistering attack on Donald Trump and his allies Monday, accusing Republican leaders of treating the former president like a “king” by defending him at every turn in a federal investigation into classified documents stored at his Florida estate.
“Those who are protecting Donald Trump — elected leaders of my party — are now willing to condemn FBI agents, Department of Justice officials, and pretend that taking top-secret SCI documents and keeping them in a desk drawer in an office in Mar-a-Lago, or in an unsecured location anywhere, was somehow not a problem. They are attempting to excuse this behavior,” Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. (SCI is short for “sensitive compartmented information.”)
“Bit by bit, excuse by excuse, we’re putting Donald Trump above the law. We are rendering indefensible conduct normal, legal and appropriate — as though he were a king,” Cheney added, citing what she said was the willingness of some elected GOP officials to defend allegations of actions that touch on obstruction of justice.
Cheney, a vocal Trump critic and the vice chairwoman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, has been shunned in some conservative circles. But on this day, she was the keynote speaker at the AEI’s annual Constitution Day lecture, where she got a standing ovation and laughter when she told a story about how a House GOP colleague had mocked Trump as “orange Jesus.” Cheney did not reveal the colleague’s name.
Both of Cheney’s parents — former Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynn Cheney — attended Monday’s speech, as did Bush-era conservatives like Peter Wehner and Paul Wolfowitz, as well as Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general who refused Trump’s order to help him overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Cheney, who lost her primary for another House term and is flirting with a 2024 presidential bid, warned that Trump is encouraging his supporters to turn to violence “to prevent his prosecution.”
“It is hard to see this as anything but a direct threat to our Constitution, to our republic — and a credible one at that,” she said. “One can only wonder, is this where the Republican Party will go next? That prosecution is inappropriate, because MAGA will violently oppose it?”
Shortly before her speech, Cheney introduced election reform legislation with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., aimed at preventing another Jan. 6 attack or a future attempt to overturn a presidential election.
The Presidential Election Reform Act would overhaul the Electoral Count Act, the archaic 1887 law that governs the counting of electoral votes, which Trump and his allies tried to halt in a bid to stay in power after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. The House could vote on the bill this week.
But Cheney made it clear in her speech that the legislation is not meant to take the focus off Trump’s action’s.
“No one should take our effort to reform the electoral count as any indication that Donald Trump did not violate the existing law or did not violate the Constitution,” she said.
As she has done repeatedly over the past two years, Cheney knocked Trump for not calling off a mob of his supporters who were attacking police officers and hunting down members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6.
She praised Pence for his actions that day; he called Defense Department officials for help and returned to the Capitol to finish certifying the election results.
“Mike Pence was essentially the president for most of that day,” Cheney said. “White House staff knew it, and so did every other Republican and Democratic leader in Washington. How could Donald Trump’s refusal to act, his betrayal of our republic, of our Constitution, of our principles, come with no cost?”
In a previously untold story, Cheney recounted how, on Jan. 6 before the violence, she was in the Republican cloakroom just off the House floor watching her GOP colleagues sign sheets of paper to object to the 2020 election results for states like Arizona and Pennsylvania.
“And as I was sitting there, a member came in and he signed his name on each one of the state’s sheets. And then he said under his breath, ‘The things we do for the orange Jesus,’” Cheney said, sparking some laughter from the audience. “And I thought, you know, you’re taking an act that is unconstitutional.”
Haley Talbot contributed.