Liz Cheney’s new book, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, is both gripping and terrifying. The rock-ribbed Wyoming conservative has written a compelling first-hand account of the January 6 assault on the U. S. Capitol and the investigation that followed.
Much of Cheney’s detailed story about the insurrection will be familiar to the millions who watched the House select committee’s seven TV hearings. But Cheney probes deeper, documenting Donald Trump’s nefarious attempts to stay in power. She describes how working as committee co-chair would cost her position as Republican conference chair and then loss of her 2022 reelection.
The elder daughter of Lynne and former Vice President Dick Cheney weaves family history into her book: a grandmother who was the first female deputy sheriff in Natrona County, Wyoming, and great-great-grandfather Samuel Fletcher Cheney who fought on the Union side during the Civil War. She also describes peaceful transfers of presidential power by presidents George Washington, John Adams, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. She tells how Abraham Lincoln was preparing to hand over the presidency to Gen. George McClellan whom he believed would win in 1864.
The tradition of a peaceful transfer of power was faithfully honored for 224 years until, as Cheney points out, Trump refused to acknowledge defeat, claiming a stolen election. He persists despite being told — time and again — that he’d lost to Biden. Unlike GOP colleagues who wanted to humor Trump in days following the 2020 election, Cheney was never convinced that he eventually would back off and fade away.
She grew alarmed after hearing during a leadership conference call that there might be dueling electoral slates January 6. Thanks to her D.C. savvy, she was able to whip into a phone booth in the House Republican cloakroom and put through a call to Mitch McConnell (“I’d known him since childhood”). She told the Senate Majority Leader what she’d learned about the fake electoral scheme and the need to prepare. McConnell agreed and asked her to coordinate with his chief of staff and the Senate parliamentarian’s office.
She writes, “As I left the Capitol on the evening of January 4, I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was little doubt what was happening: Donald Trump was trying to prevent Congress from fulfilling its constitutional duty. He was trying to seize power through illegal and unconstitutional means. And some of my Republican colleagues were helping him.”
Cheney has harsh words for members of her own party who have kowtowed to Trump and his obsession. She calls former speaker Kevin McCarthy “craven, lacking in courage and honor.” She brands Speaker Mike Johnson “a servile fraud” who falsely claimed he was a constitutional expert. (He’d only been law school dean at a small Baptist college.) She recalls how Johnson played “bait and switch,” tricking Republican members into signing a flawed amicus brief that challenged the states’ ability to oversee elections.
She heaps scorn on Rep. Jim Jordan, telling how he ham-handedly offered to help “the ladies off the aisles” during the Capitol attack. She slapped his hand away saying “Get away from me. You f—ing did this!” After congressmembers retreated to the Ways and Means committee chamber, she describes Jordan spent time on his cell phone allegedly talking to Trump and discussing how to stop counting of the electoral votes.
Operating as committee co-chair, Cheney sorted through mounds of evidence and testimony that the select committee had collected. With the help of her attorney husband Philip Perry, she diagramed the steps Trump took to overturn the election. First there were the 61 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts over alleged fraudulent votes, all lost with one exception: a thin number of Pennsylvania votes that would not have changed the outcome.
Trump next contacted governors and secretaries of state, unsuccessfully pushing them to overturn the election results. He backed the bogus fake electors’ scheme in key states and furiously pressured Vice President Mike Pence to decline to count valid electoral votes. He made personnel changes at the Pentagon, replacing key officials with pro-Trump loyalists. He tried and failed to appoint the compliant Jeffrey Clark as Attorney General.
Finally, Trump turned to his backers, summoning them to Washington on January 6. He told them “Be there. It will be wild.” That morning he inflamed them with his speech at the Ellipse, a speech that included a call to “get rid of the Liz Cheneys.” He sent his mob to the Capitol promising to join them, a promise he was prevented from honoring. Instead, he spent more than three hours in the White House watching the mayhem on TV, never heeding those who pleaded with him to call off the insurrection. Cheney argues that Trump’s refusal was his ultimate attempt to keep Congress from counting the electoral votes.
In her book, Cheney pays tribute the Capitol police who protected them from harm despite suffering injuries and even death. She reveals a feminist slant that few knew the ultra-conservative had. She got to know Speaker Nancy Pelosi and worked well with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren; she mentored former Trump staffers Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews.
Her assistance to the two young women might seem natural for the mother of three daughters and two sons. But her role remains problematic. Readers should remember Cheney remains the staunch conservative she’s always been. She’s someone who voted twice for Trump and backed his legislation 93 percent of the time.
While Cheney’s book is a faithful and powerful bipartisan view of the insurrection, it’s doubtful many — if any — of her former GOP colleagues will read it. Chances are they’ll respond as Sen. Tom Cotton did. After saying he hadn’t watched the TV hearings, he appeared on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt’s radio show and disparaged the investigation as “a partisan exercise inconsistent with ‘Anglo-American jurisprudence.’”
Cotton was merely toeing the party line as expressed by GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee. Earlier when signing a protest of electoral-vote counting, Green described his action as “Things we do for the Orange Jesus.” It’s no wonder Cheney fears American “can no longer count on the body of Republicans to protect our republic.”
What Cheney will do next is open to speculation. Some think she might file as an independent running for president. She insists she doesn’t want to do anything that would help Trump get elected. She delivers a chilling message about what Trump “the most dangerous man to occupy the presidency” might do if returned to the White House. She sees it as “sleepwalking into dictatorship.”
She concludes her book with a formidable call to action: “Everyone of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent – must work and vote together to ensure that Donald Trump and those who have appeased, enabled, and collaborated with him are defeated.”