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Liz Cheney: Jan. 6 "conspiracy" was "extremely broad … well-organized"

Liz Cheney on Jan. 6 insurrection and the "ongoing threat"
Liz Cheney on Jan. 6 insurrection and the "ongoing threat" 08:16

This Thursday night, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will hold its first public hearing in nearly a year, asking us to relive, and reckon with, a day that some would rather have us forget.

CBS News' Robert Costa asked the committee's vice chair, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, "Are you confident that what you have found as a committee will somehow grab the American people by the lapels and say, 'Wake up: You have to pay attention'?"

"I am," she replied, calling the insurrection "an ongoing threat."

"You know, we are not in a situation where former President Trump has expressed any sense of remorse about what happened," Cheney said. "We are in fact in a situation where he continues to use even more extreme language, frankly, than the language that caused the attack. And so, people must pay attention. People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don't defend it."

Trump supporters storm Congress on January 6, 2021, in an effort to overturn the results of the election that President Trump lost. Approximately 140 police officers were injured; Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died shortly after being attacked by the mob. Another four Capitol and Metropolitan Police officers reportedly committed suicide in the aftermath of the assault. CBS News

As the Wyoming Republican sees it, defending democracy means holding former President Donald Trump, and his allies, to account for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

It also means standing apart from most of her fellow Congressional Republicans. "We have too many people now in the Republican Party who are not taking their responsibilities seriously, and who have pledged their allegiance and loyalty to Donald Trump," Cheney said. "I mean, it is fundamentally antithetical, it is contrary to everything conservatives believe, to embrace a personality cult. And yet, that is what so many in my party are doing today."

Costa asked, "Is the Republican Party a personality cult?"

"I think that large segments of it have certainly become that."

"A cult?"

"Yeah. I mean, I think there is absolutely a cult of personality around Donald Trump. And I think that, you know, the majority of Republicans across the country don't want to see our system unravel. They understand how important it is to protect and defend the Constitution."

CBS News' Robert Costa with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. CBS News

Cheney is one of just two Republicans who has chosen to serve on the House's January 6 Committee.

Its members have interviewed more than a thousand witnesses, pored over tens of thousands of documents, and examined the private communications of top officials in the Trump White House, senior Republicans in Congress, and far-right organizers.

Cheney said, "Let me say it this way: I have not learned anything that has made me less concerned."

"Well, what's made you more concerned?" asked Costa.

"Well, I think the extent, the expanse, how broad this multi-pronged effort was."

"Was it a conspiracy?"

"I think certainly -- I mean, look, if you look at the court filings …"

"But do you believe it was a conspiracy?"

"I do," she replied. "It is extremely broad. It's extremely well-organized. It's really chilling."

Cheney was once the #3 Republican in the House, but a year ago she was voted out of leadership for her criticism of Trump.  She further angered Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy when she joined the January 6 Committee. 

McCarthy was recently issued a subpoena by the panel, but he has refused to testify, claiming the committee is "illegitimate."

Costa asked, "What keeps Kevin McCarthy close to Trump? Fear? Or something else?"

"I think some of it is fear," Cheney replied. "I think it's also craven political calculation. I think that he has decided that, you know, the most important thing to him is to attempt to be Speaker of the House. And therefore he is embracing those in our party who are anti-Semitic; he is embracing those in our party who are white nationalists; he is lying about what happened on January 6; and he's turned his back on the Constitution."

"Yet, your colleagues continue to back him?"

"I've never seen anything like it before. And I think it reflects and represents the danger of this moment."

McCarthy has publicly disputed Cheney's characterizations.

Abandoned by GOP leaders, and aggressively targeted by Trump, Cheney is now battling for re-election. The forces aligned against her include Wyoming Republican Chairman Frank Eathorne, who was on the Capitol grounds on January 6.

Cheney says her fight is a proxy for a crisis in her party.

"Is this moment a moral test for the Republican Party?" asked Costa.

"Absolutely. No question," she said. "And right now, we're failing. You know, in my state, the state party chairman is a member of the Oath Keepers.  He was here on January 6. He was here with a walkie-talkie in his hand on January 6. That is a mortal threat. And it is a moral test. We can't fail that moral test. But there are too many right now in my party who are failing it."

Eathorne did not respond to a request for comment.

While some Democrats have embraced Cheney's cause, the 55-year-old mother of five has conservative credentials she has forged over decades. She's against abortion rights; pro-fossil fuels; backed by supporters of gun rights; an unflinching hawk on foreign policy; and she voted with Trump some 90% of the time.

And then, there's her father, who was Wyoming's House member for a decade. As vice president, Dick Cheney was seen as so conservative, and menacing to Democrats, that some called him Darth Vader.

And yet, on January 6 of this year, Dick Cheney was one of the few Republicans to attend the House commemoration of the Capitol attack.

Liz Cheney said, "We sat down, and we were in the front row of the House chamber, and he looked behind him – we were on the Republican side – and he turned back to me, and he said, 'You know, it's one thing to sort of watch the news and to read about what's happened to our party … It is really another thing to be here, and to look, and see all these empty seats and not see another Republican here.'"

Cheney said she frequently seeks her father's counsel. And as she seeks inspiration at this crossroads for the committee, she looks even further back into her family's history: "I've thought a lot recently, especially, about my great-great-grandfather, who fought in the Union Army in the Civil War. And I think about what he did. I think about what generations have done to hand to us this incredible jewel, this unbelievable blessing of this country. And you know, I am gonna do everything possible that I can do to make sure that, you know, one irrational, dangerous former president doesn't destroy that."

Costa asked, "Is it a coincidence, Congresswoman, that you think a lot about the Civil War these days?"

"We are thankfully not at a moment of civil war, but we are certainly at a time of testing," Cheney replied. "We are absolutely in a moment where we have to make a decision about whether we're gonna put our love of this country above partisanship. And, to me, there's just no gray area in that question.

"Every American should be able to say, 'We love our country more.'"

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Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Mike Levine. 

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