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The Axe Files with David Axelrod

David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and CNN bring you The Axe Files, a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world. Go beyond the soundbites and get to know some of the most interesting players in politics.

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509 — Rep. Liz Cheney
The Axe Files with David Axelrod
Oct 27, 2022

In the span of 15 months, Rep. Liz Cheney went from House GOP conference chair to losing her primary by more than 30 points. Her fall within the Republican Party began with her vote to impeach President Donald Trump after the January 6 attack on the Capitol and accelerated when she joined the House committee investigating the events of that day. Rep. Cheney joined David to talk about Trump and his supporters in Congress, her work on the Jan. 6 committee, how the threats to American democracy go beyond the ballot, and her hopes for the country’s political future.

Episode Transcript
Intro
00:00:05
And now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN Audio, The Axe Files with your host, David Axelrod.
David Axelrod
00:00:19
At this point, Liz Cheney probably needs no introduction. The Wyoming congresswoman, a stalwart conservative and heir to one of the most famous Republican names, sacrificed her leadership position, her House seat, and maybe even her chance to serve in public office over her vote to impeach Donald Trump and her insistence on holding him accountable for his role leading up to and during the January 6th insurrection. I sat down with her this week to talk about all of that and about how she's processing this head spinning diversion in her life's journey. Here's that conversation. Liz Cheney, it's great to see you. We were going to be together today. Plane difficulties kept us apart. But it's always good to see you. And listen, I want to ask you about the hearings, and I want to ask you about the elections. But since people hear you talking about that all the time, I really want to ask you about you know, I mean, I am trying to get my arms around your journey, which is really unusual. And I don't mean just your journey from in the last three years, but you grew up in politics. I mean, that was that was what you knew from- your dad, was the White House chief of staff when you were like ten years old.
Liz Cheney
00:01:42
Yeah, that's right. That's one of my my earliest memories is actually during Watergate. And I was six years old, maybe seven. And I remember in the mornings, my my parents would would wait for The Washington Post and go and sometimes, you know, send Mary or me down the little stairs to the front the front porch to get The Post, because that's how everybody was following all of the news about what was happening those days in Watergate. And so, no I definitely, you know, have had the the opportunity to see a lot firsthand, both in my own career and before that, watching my mom and dad.
David Axelrod
00:02:25
What a parallel. I mean, because he became White House chief of staff for a president who succeeded to the presidency because of a presidential scandal and probably sacrificed his career by pardoning Richard Nixon, he felt for the good of the country. I heard you talking yesterday about about you must have talked to your dad about all this stuff. He must have clear recollections. I know the pardon happened, I think, before he became the chief of staff, but what kind of advice does he give you?
Liz Cheney
00:02:56
He is really troubled watching what's happening. And and I think, you know, you can imagine for somebody who obviously served at the highest levels of government and, you know, I think whether you agree or disagree with policies, I think you would have to look, for example, at President Bush 41's national security team. And, you know, look at that, the combination of my dad and Brant Scowcroft and Jim Baker and just recognize the seriousness. And I do think that there there is a level of understanding of the responsibility that comes with these offices and and the seriousness and the challenges we face as a as a country. And so, you know, he is deeply concerned about what's happened to our party and what's happening in the country. And I talked to him about it a lot. He's great, to, to be able to bounce ideas off of and get historic perspective from, you know, as is my mom as well. So I feel very blessed to have have them a phone call away or a Sunday dinner away.
David Axelrod
00:04:11
Your mom, noted conservative, public intellectual and quite a personage in her in her own right. But was it politics all the time in your home when you were growing up? Was there a lot of talk about it?
Liz Cheney
00:04:24
I don't recall talk about politics. I recall a lot of talk about policy. And I was remembering the other day sort of sitting around our kitchen table eating dinner. Those were the days when everybody got their news on the nightly news. And and even then, I mean, I think we do we're facing different information challenges now. But we look back sometimes at those days and think, well, that was a time when everybody knew you could count on, you know, the information you were getting on the news. And and I can remember even then having discussions, you know, if there were particular issues that my dad might be involved in. And we were seen reporting on the news and and knowing early on that you weren't necessarily getting the full story from what you were seeing in those days, even so. But I just I remember a lot of discussion about policy and a lot of discussion about about American history in particular. And I also, you know, my parents, they they never really talked to Mary and me as though we were kids. You know, they always talked to us in a way that, you know, was the way that they talked to to their friends and colleagues, you know, and valued our opinions very much. You know, from a very early age. And and so that was that was something I really benefited from.
David Axelrod
00:05:43
Now, I think your dad was 34 when he became the White House chief of staff, which is quite something. Did you go down there and visit him and hang around there and sort of soak it all up?
Liz Cheney
00:05:55
We did. So he was very much, you know, very aware that he was gone a lot. It was obviously a busy time and he would work seven days a week, but he made a real effort to take Mary and me with him, especially on I remember Saturday mornings going down to have breakfast with him in the White House mess. And then in those days, sort of the height of technology was on the wall of the chief of staff's office, which is still the chief of staff's office today. In those days, they had sort of three different television sets kind of built into the wall, as I remember. And Mary and I thought it was just the greatest thing that you could turn each one to, you know, a different channel and watch Saturday morning cartoons simultaneously on different channels. So that was a great memory.
David Axelrod
00:06:45
You guys lived in Virginia then? Is that right? And then and then he and then he ran for Congress from Wyoming. And were you involved in those campaigns?
Liz Cheney
00:06:54
Yeah, we did. Those were very much family affairs. And and especially in 1978, which was the first time my dad ran, we traveled the state together as a family. And then, you know, the primary was in August, and in June he had a heart attack. And so that that was a real wakeup call. And he was very young, course, 34, 35 and fundamentally changed you know, he was off the campaign trail for a while. It was my mom and my sister and me who traveled around. And then when he came back on the campaign trail, my grandfather drove us around the state in an RV and, you know, had a sort of a different pace to the campaign, obviously, as my dad was was recovering. But so it was always from the very beginning of our political campaigns, very much a family affair.
David Axelrod
00:07:49
So you just finished a campaign in Wyoming, a much different kind of campaign than the ones that you experienced as a kid. You couldn't campaign in public settings because of threats. You having won landslides in the past, lost the primary by 37 points. And it wasn't that you weren't conservative enough. You're plenty conservative. We could probably spend an hour talking about the things we disagree about it honestly, you know, in the main, you were a strong supporter of Trump's policies, 93% approval for Trump's policies. You voted for his tax cuts. You voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. You did all those things except for one thing, which is you you decided you couldn't countenance this and it changed everything. And how did you feel to be all of a sudden, the object of this torrent of hostility in a place that you've known all your life and been part of all your life?
Liz Cheney
00:08:53
You know, I suppose I, I didn't dwell on that, that personal aspect of it very much, partly because, you know, I knew that that there was no choice from my perspective. I had to do what was the right thing at each moment. And I knew there would be political consequences for that. I think that the extent to which people across Wyoming have been betrayed by Donald Trump is something that's very striking. I think, you know, you've certainly seen that around the country. You have very good, hard working people who have believed and continue to believe the lies. And that's a really corrosive thing for our society.
David Axelrod
00:09:30
They feel you betrayed them.
Liz Cheney
00:09:32
Yeah, I mean, look. And I think there there's some people who have been betrayed by him and who I think who, he really is preying on people's patriotism. And I think that that's part of of what's happening. But but you also then have dangerous elements. And in our political culture today and in Wyoming, you've got an oath keeper who's the chairman of our Republican State Party, for example. And so I think that it's a combination of people who know better, people who are enabling what's happening, people who've been betrayed. And then also, you know, when you have groups like The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and the three percenters who clearly, you know, were very much involved and engaged in leading the attack on the Capitol and the introduction of violence at that level and in ways we've never seen before in terms of attempting to overturn an election. That's a that is a very dangerous element. And and it's a really dangerous mix that characterizes our politics today.
David Axelrod
00:10:36
What about for you personally and your own security? You've got five kids. You've got a family. Undoubtedly, you almost have discussed this. And you you must be concerned about them as well.
Liz Cheney
00:10:51
Yeah. I mean, certainly, I think, you know, my my kids obviously had some experience with sort of public political criticism. Our older kids who remember when my dad was a vice president.
David Axelrod
00:11:05
Yes, he had a few critics.
Liz Cheney
00:11:07
Some people criticized him. I mean, you might not know any of them, David. Hard to remember.
David Axelrod
00:11:15
Yes. Yes. Yeah, yeah. We can talk about that later. Yes. But he was, I think, depicted as Darth Vader and in various places. Yes.
Liz Cheney
00:11:22
That was the nice thing. So that was the nicest way. Now, I think so. They do. But I also my my kids, I'm very proud of them. And and, you know, they each sort of handle politics and they have different levels of interest in politics. One of my daughters, I won't say which one, but she was she was someplace over the course of the last year and a half where somebody said something to her, very sort of critical or mean about me. And I said to my daughter, well, how did you respond when this person said this thing to you? And she said, Mom, I told her that she was both stupid and rude. Okay.
David Axelrod
00:12:04
Well, at least she economized on the words.
Liz Cheney
00:12:06
Exactly.
David Axelrod
00:12:08
Well, let me let me leave the security piece. You said that you you had no choice but to do what you did. At what point did you feel like I have no choice have to do is because Trump had been talking about the election for months before the election. He prepared the election by saying if he didn't win, it would be stolen. He really, as you guys pointed out in your hearings, he kind of fanned the flames beforehand. And in fact, four years earlier, even in winning, he alleged that, you know, that millions of votes were fraudulent and he empanelled a committee and Vice President Pence, I think headed the committee to try and find these imaginary votes. I mean, this was not new behavior on his part. At what point do you say, I'm going to speak out and do you look back and say, I wish I had spoken out earlier on this?
Liz Cheney
00:13:04
Yeah, it's a it's a really important question. I think that certainly we know now and as we've looked through and taken testimony through the January 6th committee, had witnesses come in and tell us that that, you know, it was a premeditated plan, not not just, you know, to say that he won, you know, but but to declare victory and ignore the results no matter what. And so we sort of watched that happen. I think that there was a tendency among a lot of people when it was, you know, if you look at kind of the the day of the election, I think we thought, all right, you know, the election's over. Certainly a couple of days later, when it was called around the second or third week of November, I grew very concerned and put out a statement at that point, you know, basically saying, look, if you've got evidence, you have to produce it.
David Axelrod
00:14:00
November 20th, I think it was.
Liz Cheney
00:14:03
Yeah. And I mean, certainly you can look back in hindsight and say, well, you should have known sooner, you should see something publicly sooner. I think that once, you know, certainly presidents have the right to challenge, all candidates do, have the right to challenge the outcome and using the rules and the laws set up in each individual state. But you you cannot make claims of massive fraud and illegality and then not produce any evidence of that in court and then ignore them, rule into the courts. So it was really it sort of built after Election Day. And then, of course, December 14th when the Electoral College met. And again, I think that many people, frankly, on both sides thought, okay, there'll be this next thing that happens and that will be the end. And of course, it wasn't. And so on January 6th itself, you know, as soon as we were evacuated from the chamber, I knew that we had to impeach him. I knew that that clearly what had happened here from, you know, summoning the mob and and knowing they were armed, you know, sending them up to the Capitol, that's clearly an impeachable offense. And I think if you, you know, look at my statement a week or so after right before impeachment, I made that very clear.
David Axelrod
00:15:21
Yeah, you did. So you said earlier that you knew there would be consequences. Did you know, did you talk to your dad and others? And was it very clear to you that this is a Rubicon here? And if I cross it, that could profoundly change the course of my life and career.
Liz Cheney
00:15:38
At each moment. So, you know, when it came, for example, to the impeachment vote, you know, honestly, looking back, it was just I could not conceive of a situation in which what he did was not a high crime and misdemeanor. So there was just no no question about it. And I suppose I wasn't thinking about it from the perspective of of my career. I was thinking about it from the perspective of, look, this is my responsibility and this is what we're faced with as a country. And and and, you know, there's a clarity to recognizing and understanding that there are some moments when you can't make those political calculations. So I never sort of, it wasn't like a handwringing kind of a thing because the correct path was so clear.
David Axelrod
00:16:23
But when you took that position, did people not say to you, you're charting a dangerous course for yourself here?
Liz Cheney
00:16:30
Oh, many, many people said that to me. Yeah, yeah. I mean, and I think if you you know, I began immediately after my impeachment vote or the day of the vote, talking to constituents at home and talking, you know, doing local press events and talking about the extent to which none of us have the luxury or ability to only abide by the Constitution or only abide by our oath when it's politically convenient. And so it was clear to me what needed to be done and what I was compelled and obligated to do. Absolutely. I had many, many people saying to me, you know, at different periods of time, keep your head down, don't do this. It's just better, he'll go away. This is just dividing the party and creating a real political mess. And you really shouldn't go down this path. And it was inconceivable to me that that was the decision people would make.
David Axelrod
00:17:27
Again, not to make him a central character in this, but what did your dad tell you?
Liz Cheney
00:17:31
I mean, at each moment there just and part of it is because he is a student of history. And, you know, I also have to say, I was very struck when I the first time I saw and I don't remember exactly when it was, but the first time I saw the video of Vice President Pence and his family being evacuated from the Capitol down that that stairwell on the Senate side, not from the Capitol, but downstairs. And the the image that immediately came into my mind was the image of my dad being evacuated down the steps in the West Wing on 9/11 with Jimmy Scott, Secret Service agent, who was evacuating him. And I really it it just really struck me that, you know, my my dad was being evacuated because Al-Qaeda was targeting the White House on that horrific day when they killed 3000 Americans. And then you looked at, you know, Mike Pence had to be evacuated because the President of the United States was targeting him and, you know, sending out a tweet of incitement against him right around that same time. So it was very a moment that you don't forget and I think really underscores the danger of Donald Trump.
David Axelrod
00:18:42
We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with more of The Axe Files. And now back to the show. There is a point in this hearing. I talked to Adam Kinzinger about this a few six weeks ago or something, five, six weeks ago. There's a point in your hearing where Justice Department officials I forget who precisely, maybe it was rosen said the president said, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to us. Yeah, which was really a stunning exchange. But the thing that went through my mind at that moment was that his conversation with President Zelensky back in in 2019, when he said, just start an investigation of the Bidens, you know, we'll take care of the rest. Just start an investigation of the Bidens. And I raise that because you were really in charge of messaging for the Republican House caucus, and you were pretty strong on the point in fighting that impeachment and dismissing that impeachment effort. Is that something that you look back at now with the advantage of the experience that you now have, looking at his behavior in this instance and say, maybe I should drawn the line there?
Liz Cheney
00:20:16
I look at it very much from the perspective of the impeachment, the duty and the authority, the obligation that goes with the impeachment power. And and we learned lessons. I certainly learned lessons from the way that the Democrats handled that first impeachment. And I think that they would have been better served if they'd enforced some of their subpoenas. You know, I think that when when you're asked to take that step of voting for impeachment and an and it ultimately ended up being, you know, a case that was based upon sort of second hand pieces of information. And, you know, so I think based upon the case that was presented, I don't regret that vote. I certainly think, though, if you look at how we've conducted ourselves in the January 6th committee and the extent to which we've we've really had, I think, an aggressive litigation strategy in a number of cases. And we've thought very carefully about making sure that that we are taking steps that we need to take to provide all of the information. You know, I think that we also have, and the January 6th committee had just the challenge has been how to ensure that we can organize and present the information because there's so much of it. But but I think that's that's one of the most important sort of differences between the two situations.
David Axelrod
00:22:07
Do you look at that conversation that Trump had with Zelensky differently now?
Liz Cheney
00:22:12
I think that when you look today, certainly I think that the the the way that Donald Trump conducted himself, both with respect to Ukraine and also with respect to Vladimir Putin, raised concerns for a number of us then and certainly does now. And if you look, for example, at when when he was standing next to Putin, I think it was in Helsinki. And Dan Coats was there, too. And he basically said he took Putin's word more than his own.
David Axelrod
00:22:41
Dan Coats was the Director of National Intelligence.
Liz Cheney
00:22:44
Yeah, you know, that at the time was was stunning, very concerning. And I think that you look at sort of what he was doing also in terms suggesting that the United States would withdraw from NATO at some point or that NATO had, you know, lost its usefulness as an alliance. There were many policy issues, many, many issues in the way that he conducted himself that I disagree with on the national security front, certainly.
David Axelrod
00:23:11
Yeah. Yeah.
Liz Cheney
00:23:12
And look, I don't think I think-
David Axelrod
00:23:14
It's really, really, but I'm asking you really more about the whole issue of democracy and his sort of carelessness or his wanton disregard of rules and laws and norms and institutions, asking a foreign leader to open up an investigation against your political opponent, especially at a time when they're trying to petition you for the weapons they need to defend themselves. That's a pretty alarming thing to do.
Liz Cheney
00:23:41
Yeah, no, I don't disagree with you. As I said, I think that if we'd been in a position where you'd seen some of the subpoenas enforced that weren't enforced, you know, we may have had more evidence that clearly pushed in the direction of the necessity of impeachment the first time around.
David Axelrod
00:24:00
It's such an interesting thing because, you know, your committee, which has done in my view, you know, really extraordinary work, is this strange amalgam of people. And, you know, you have the two Democrats on the committee who led the two impeachments, Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin. I think if I dug into the archives of quotes of yours that there may have been an unkind quote here and there about them during those processes. What is it been like working together now and as. What does that tell you about what's right and wrong with our politics?
Liz Cheney
00:24:41
Yeah, look, I think we probably, I doubt that there's a single person on the committee who can't find a tweet or two that they wish they hadn't tweeted. Look, I think it certainly it certainly has made me, not just the service on the committee, but sort of where we are politically made me look back and think about how important it is not to fall into reflexive partisanship. I think, you know, everybody has been guilty of that. We all do it. But we all need to sort of take a step back and say, wait a minute, you know, there there's a time for the political battles that go on. But we ought to, to the extent we can, conduct ourselves in a way that doesn't just sort of immediately kind of go to the lowest common denominator, you know, talking points and and partizan attacks. And I think in terms of those of us on the committee, it's not that, as you know, I mean, it's not that we don't disagree on some really big issues, but we do agree on the most important issue. And I think that that really has characterized, I think, all of our work together and what we're trying to make sure that that we do to fulfill our our obligations under the resolution that created the committee and our obligations to American people.
David Axelrod
00:25:57
Yeah. I always tell the story about the day of the inauguration in 2009 when President Obama became president. I happened to be back in the speaker's office there, there was, you may remember this, there was a terrorist threat on the inauguration. And I had to hand the president something that he would have had to read if something had happened. And President Bush came in and I told him that, I said to him, I've been talking about you on TV. And of course, he said, I don't watch TV, which is the lie that every president tells. Certainly the one you're you're examining. And I said, well, I want to tell you what I said. I feel like the way you guys have handled this transition was a true act of patriotism. And it really was they were incredibly cooperative and they wanted it to go well and they wanted to do everything they could to help us get off to a good start. And they didn't have to because we weren't that charitable in our comments about the Bush-Cheney administration during our-
Liz Cheney
00:26:57
I'm aware.
David Axelrod
00:26:59
During our campaign. But somehow we've got to get back to a place where we can have disagreements over policy without impeaching each other as human beings, impeaching each other as Americans. And that is that's that is the opposite of what Donald Trump represents. And it is frankly worrisome that it seems to be the opposite of where we're going in our politics. So that's why I'm interested in what you've learned by working so closely with people with whom you've tussled so frequently during your years in the house.
Liz Cheney
00:27:32
Well, and I think, you know, you bring up a really important point, which is about inaugurations. And people can say sometimes, well, gosh, it's sort of, you know, too idealistic or naive to think that, you know, we're all going to kind of just come together and and set aside our partisan attacks. But we always have done that before when it comes to the peaceful transition of power. And, you know, I have talked about I remember being very moved, sitting on the platform when President Bush was inaugurated, moved again just recently watching Al Gore's concession speech. I was also very moved, sitting on the platform when President Obama was sworn in. And again, even though that had been hard fought, it would continue to be hard fought, big policy disagreements. You know what? What a thing that says about this nation that we were swearing in the first African-American president. I mean, that that those are the kinds of things that we should be proud of and that we should understand and recognize that once the campaign's over, that peaceful transition of power is so invaluable there. If you if we lose that, if we all of a sudden are in a place where people who don't like the outcome of the presidential election or a president can attempt to, to use violence to overturn it and stay in office. That's that's the end of democracy. And so I do think we we have to we have to remind people that there is something much better in us as Americans. And and I really do think that that. I know that the vast majority of Americans understand and want to live in a country that's characterized by a peaceful transition of power. And and, you know, they'll they'll ensure that we do preserve that and not not let those who want to destroy that or unravel it prevail.
David Axelrod
00:29:30
You know, I really hope you're right. And, I mean, we're going through an election right now where, you know, I think I saw the other day 51% of the House candidates, Republican House candidates, refused to say whether Biden is legitimately elected. We've got, I know you've been in Arizona. You know, we have a race out there where the the entire Republican ticket are election deniers. The candidate for governor there, Republican candidate Keri Lake, has said if she loses it, it'll only be because it was the election was stolen. You've got a secretary of state candidate there who makes her look like Abraham Lincoln. So and this is all around the country, these races for secretaries of state, the people who are going to run these elections. I mean, I think it's deeply worrisome because some of these people will win.
Liz Cheney
00:30:25
Yeah. And I think it is, it's that combination of people who are in a position to certify the next election and who have said already that they would ignore what happened in the last election. They wouldn't have certified it in the face of the law and the facts and the results and the recounts and the audits, Keri Lake and Mark Finchem said they would not have certified. And when you have somebody who has made clear that they won't do their duty, they won't certify if they disagree with the results, you know, you can't put them in power. And I think that-
David Axelrod
00:31:03
You can't but they may.
Liz Cheney
00:31:04
They may. And I think that it's going to take more than one election cycle for us to get back to a place where we are electing serious candidates. It's it's you know, it's one of the things that I've been able to speak at a number of college campuses in the last several months. And I think that's the most important message that that I can convey is vote for the serious candidate and run for office yourself. And one of the real challenges we face is that oftentimes when you go into vote, there's not any good option. And I think that we all have to dedicate ourselves to encouraging young people. And, you know, many people aren't so young, encouraging people to get into these races, incentivizing substantive, serious conduct. And and in voting, you know, voting with responsibility and voting for the serious candidates. And I think that's, you know, in a race in which you have a Republican who has said that they won't certify a result they disagree with, it doesn't matter if you're a Republican, you can't vote for that person. And I think that, you know, again, we may well see a number of those individuals elected in a cycle. And we'll have to do everything necessary that we can do to defeat them in the next cycle.
David Axelrod
00:32:27
One of the reasons we may see them elected in this cycle is that despite everything that you've done, nine public hearings, an array of witnesses, almost all of whom are Republicans, by the way, sort of devastating testimony, painting the picture of what happened, including, you know, assertions by people who were close to the president that, yeah, he knew the election was was lost. As we sit here today, 72% of Republicans still say Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. So they're not alone. Keri Lake is, she's she's running on the tracks that were laid. And I think one of the great concerns is this is the thing about norms. Once they're shattered, they're very hard to reconstruct. And, you know, Trump is a he's a norm shatterer. And now he's legitimated this to where people sort of unabashedly say, I'm not going to accept the result if I lost, something we would have thought unthinkable six years ago.
Liz Cheney
00:33:31
One of the things that I think will be such a focus, you know, when people look back at this time and it hasn't gotten enough attention, is the responsibility, the accountability, the vast numbers of elected Republican officials who know how dangerous this is. Who know the election wasn't stolen, but who are enabling it. And so, you know, we started by talking about people who it does, you know, the people that Trump has betrayed, people who will never, never believe that the election wasn't stolen no matter what evidence you provide. But there are far more people in my party who are just taking the politically expedient path and we wouldn't be facing this threat.
David Axelrod
00:34:19
You're talking about office holders.
Liz Cheney
00:34:20
Yes, exactly. And Republican elected officials who are taking the politically expedient path. And we wouldn't we wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. You know, if if people weren't enabling and appeasing Trump and it then, you know, you wouldn't be facing a situation where you had so many people in the party who say they think the election was stolen. And it's the media too, conservative media.
David Axelrod
00:34:46
Yes. There's no doubt one of the reasons that 72% believe this is because in the in the outlets where they get their information or what's purported to be information, they're being told that this is the case. But I can only imagine your colleagues who you're calling out here saying, yeah, well, guess what, I'm going back to Congress and you're not, Liz Cheney. So, you know, you can tell me whatever you want, but I'm I'm going to be here and I want to be here, Kinzinger said when he was here. You know, there are people who for whom being in Congress is not just a job, but it's their identity. And they just can't they can't imagine not having that. And Donald Trump had the ability to keep them from coming back, as he has- almost everyone who voted against has either retired or have lost. You've got two or still standing one, you know, they still have to win elections in November. So, you know, he his message was clear, which is, you mess with me, I'm going to end your political career. You're not a great role model in that regard.
Liz Cheney
00:35:50
Well.
David Axelrod
00:35:51
I mean, I say that as someone who admires you deeply.
Liz Cheney
00:35:54
Right. Right. But I would say that that that is true. If you think that the objective of being in politics is to maintain your seat. You know, and maintain your office. And, number one, they aren't going to prevail. You know, Donald Trump can say what he wants, but but at the end of the day, I have total and complete confidence that there are many more Americans who are understand the threat that he poses and who are going to ensure that he is not successful and, you know, will ensure that that democracy and that the republic survives. So the story is not over yet. But it also is a case that that the system doesn't work. That system breaks down very, very quickly. If once people are elected, their sole purpose is maintaining their seat. And, you know, there's a reason why we swore an oath to the Constitution. A reason why we all have to have a duty to something greater than, you know, political survival. It has made me think about term limits in a new way. You know, I have opposed term limits, and I think there are some constitutional difficulties with them. And I think the voters ultimately ought to get to make those decisions. But if you have members and I've had members say directly to me, you know, look, the point is just political survival. Just keep your head down and survive. Well, you know, if the chips are down and the most dangerous moment for the nation that we've faced ever from the president arrives and people don't do the right thing because they're just trying to hold on to office. Then, then that makes it very difficult for the system to survive. But but as I said, the country has been through crises, including, you know, devastating civil war. And at every moment of those crises, we have come out of it, we've come through it, and we've survived. And I'm confident. Don't don't bet against America. Don't bet against our democracy. Don't bet against me.
David Axelrod
00:38:07
We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with more of The Axe Files. And now back to the show. I was lucky enough to be there when you got the Profiles in Courage Award. I'm on that Profiles in Courage Committee, and I think about that. I always say to people, you know, there's a reason Profiles in Courage was a slim volume because it's not the norm for politicians to say, you know what, I'm going to do this even though I know it will probably cost me my job because my oath is more important than my job. That's the ideal. That's what we should demand. That's what we should want. But it's not it's not the norm. And that's the reason JFK wrote the book, to lift up those examples. But let me switch subjects for a second here. You you've talked about possibly running for president. This is under the category of not betting against you. You you've talked about running for president. What are the how are you going to make this decision? When are you going to make this decision? Does it rely on Donald Trump? In other words, if he if he doesn't run, does that relieve the your impulse to want to jump in there and try and stop stop him or.
Liz Cheney
00:39:39
I don't think about it in those terms. And I there's a lot of questions of a lot of people right now about, you know, what are we going to do in '24 and what's the race going to look like in '24? And and that matters. But I really I think about this in terms of, there's a much, much bigger set of challenges than who's going to be on the ballot in '24. I honestly haven't made a decision about it, and I am focused on the select committee work. But but even beyond that, you know, I think what we know is our politics are broken. And when we're in a situation where, you know, the statistics you mentioned, 72% of Republicans think that the election was not legitimate. You know, where violence has become a hallmark of our politics, where you know that, there's a need to do much more than sort of think about what comes next in terms of a presidential campaign and what that looks like. There's a real need, I think there's a piece of this that's fundamental, that's education, that's helping people, helping to make sure that our kids understand what the rule of law means and what their responsibilities are. There's a need, I think, to to reach out to people regardless of party. And you and I've talked about this before in terms of, you know, wouldn't it, if you look at Congress today, you think about how much better off we would be if we had serious people on both sides. You know, there are people on the right who are dangerous. There are certainly people on the left who have crazy ideas. But there are a lot of people who want to do the right thing and want to find ways to work together, to do the right thing. And I think that we have to find ways that don't necessarily just look at just what is the next election? What's the next campaign?
David Axelrod
00:41:39
No, I couldn't agree with you more. One of the concerns is that some of those very people are the ones who are on the bubble now because they tend to come from districts that are competitive. And there are fewer and fewer of them, I should say, because I don't want to deal with the the the incoming. You know, there are that there there there's, you know, fingers to be pointed and blame in a lot of directions at this particular moment in history. You know, you can't compare someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who, you know, who says things that are absolute lunacy with someone who thinks we should have universal health care or a Green New Deal, which may be what you consider a nutty idea. I mean, I have I probably have different views on some of these things, but but they're grounded in a real policy debate. They're not space lasers run by Jews starting fire fight, forest fires in California which is what the-
Liz Cheney
00:42:43
Yeah, I mean, the the way that I think about it is there is only one former president and he's a Republican former president who attempted to use violence to overturn an election. And there's only one party right now where people are embracing, enabling and appeasing that. And that's my party. So, you know, we can that I actually think if but I do think that you know we we have to be in a position on both sides where we're saying there are certain things that can't be part of our debate and our discourse. We have to make sure that, you know, anti-Semitism is not part of our discourse, is not accepted, white supremacy is not accepted. It is on the Republican side now where, you know, you have people who are willing to look the other way in the face of insurrection. And that's you know, that's very dangerous.
David Axelrod
00:43:36
These are, I want to read these numbers, which kind of blew my mind. I mean, these are numbers I thought I would never see. These are your ratings broken down by party and ideology.
Liz Cheney
00:43:50
Let me guess.
David Axelrod
00:43:51
Yeah. So among Democrats, Liz Cheney, 59% positive. Quite a good score, by the way. 18% negative. Among Republicans, 18%. negative, 63%- I'm sorry, 18% positive. 63% negative. Among liberals, 61% positive. 22% negative. Among conservatives, 13 positive. 69 negative. I mean, I know why your numbers are so strong among Democrats, among liberals. And I, I really do think it is an appreciation for the fact that you've been willing to risk everything for for democracy. But the real question it raises is like, if you were to run for president, where? I mean, because, you know, I mean, honestly, as much as my fellow Democrats love you, I think if you were to run for president, they might take a closer look at your voting record, I think and obviously Republicans are, you know, so.
Liz Cheney
00:45:05
I think, look. I suppose this is why I think that we can't, we can't look at the moment that we're in any kind of a of a traditional political lens. And I don't mean that with respect to me, you know, but but I also think that there is a tremendous need for people to just sort of, there's a desire for among voters, for political leaders who will just sort of say, stop, stop the toxicity and the vitriol. But also, I think the most important thing that I can do is help to make sure that I, you know, obviously finish the job we have in the January 6th committee and do everything I can to to help people to understand and recognize how dangerous this threat is. And that doesn't change depending upon poll numbers. You know, it's it's the truth. And it you know, it's it's it's what I think is the most important thing for the country. And I'm sure that the members of the committee that I am surprised to be spending time with and the Democrats that I'm surprised to be spending time with are surprised to be spending time with me as well. So maybe we can all learn something about what's really important here from each other.
David Axelrod
00:46:20
What is the house going to be like? You've been unsparing in your criticism of Kevin McCarthy, and he's probably added. I heard you actually yesterday on Meet the Press talk about this, added to your level of concern, if not contempt, with his comments on Ukraine recently. But, you know, I hear the aforementioned Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is sitting right next to McCarthy when he released his palm card for the fall say, you know, we're going to impeach the president. We're going to impeach the president for for Ukraine, for what he did in Ukraine. And we're going to impeach the president for for his for what he did in Afghanistan. And it's like, you know, you've heard others talk about, you know, incessant sort of hearings about Hunter Biden. You know, we'll see what happens with that. But what is it going to be like in the House if under a Speaker McCarthy with the crew that he has around him?
Liz Cheney
00:47:20
There's two, I want to, I'll answer that question, certainly. But you mentioned two other things that I think are also very important. One is Afghanistan. And one of the things that we showed in our last hearing, you know, was that for all of the talk from Donald Trump, from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying that they would never have agreed to a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
David Axelrod
00:47:47
Yeah, they wanted to get out earlier.
Liz Cheney
00:47:49
Right. Yeah. And, you know, we have the the Keith Kellogg, the vice president's national security advisor, testified to the committee. It would have been a complete catastrophe. And so I think it's important for the history to be clear on what policy the Trump administration was following. On Ukraine, you know, we just saw today 30 progressive House members put out a letter putting pressure on the Biden administration to move to the negotiating table and questioning the administration's policy with respect to the provision of military aid to Ukraine. And I think that, you know what Kevin McCarthy said is wrong and what they're saying is wrong. I mean, I think we it's it's a it's a really important thing. We have a bipartisan group supporting continued assistance to Ukraine and understanding how important that battle is. So there you know, I think that you've got misguided policy, you know, on both sides there to some extent. Now- but as you point out, that's a very different thing from what ultimately, if you look at what's happening in the house, you have people who were on the fringe until very recently who increasingly are going to have, you know, a lot of authority and a lot of power in a in a Republican controlled House. And and I think that that's not that's those are not the you know, that the Marjorie Taylor Greene's of the world, the Paul Gosar's of the world and people who actually have attended white supremacy events. And you know, they they are people that Kevin McCarthy is embracing because he's he's, you know, doing that because he thinks he needs to do it to get the votes to be speaker. And that's not leadership.
David Axelrod
00:49:41
In your last public hearing, that dramatic close to the last public hearing was a vote to subpoena the president. Why did you wait until the last meeting? Why did you wait until mid-October knowing that your committee probably- I mean, one thing I feel fairly confident of is that a Speaker McCarthy will not re-empanel the January 6th committee. So what was the thinking? What was the strategy?
Liz Cheney
00:50:13
Yeah, we proceeded in a way that was very responsible, in my view, in terms of doing an investigation, gathering evidence, doing the interviews and and receiving the document production, you know, close to a thousand individuals. And and we I think it was absolutely the right sequence to say we're going to gather all of this information, we're going to talk to all of the people that we can talk to. Of course, a number of people close to the president. The former president took the Fifth. But that that that's the way investigations proceed as to to gather as much information as you can before you talk to the person at the center of the effort to overturn the election. And that's how we've proceeded. And look, we we are very clear eyed about the fact that, you know, our work has to be done by the end of the year. And we've not let that, though, sort of affect the the sequence in which we thought it was most responsible to do things.
David Axelrod
00:51:16
Steve Bannon today, who is one of the people you subpoenaed who's now, unless there's some sort of intervention by appellate courts, headed to prison for contempt of Congress for not cooperating with your committee, put out a a I guess he was on his on his podcast. He said on November 8th, when we destroy the Democratic Party as a national political institution and end the regime. The hunted become the hunters, the whole Fauci family. Welcome to the investigations. Paybacks across the board. How do you react to that?
Liz Cheney
00:51:49
I think the American people deserve to know how Steve Bannon knew January 6th was going to happen before it happened. And I think that they deserve to know the facts from him. And I think that, you know, that there's a reason why he would not appear in front of our committee. And, you know, the law the law is very clear. And, but I think the American people deserve to understand and know the role that he played in all of this.
David Axelrod
00:52:20
And listen, finally, I just- back to you for a second. You had a, you know, fairly conventional political career going there until all of this happened. I mean, I know I pushed you on this a couple of times, but how do you think you've changed?
Liz Cheney
00:52:36
The biggest thing is probably, you know, the things that I assumed about the strength of our democratic system, the things that I assumed about elected officials and not just assumed, but, you know, thought thought that I really knew because of, you know, decades spent in and around politics that that those things are not true and at least they're not true in this moment. But that that the corollary to that is that at the end of the day, it was individuals who actually did the right thing, who stopped this from being much worse. And it's hard to think of a much clearer and more important lesson for every American watching, especially young people, than the lesson that those individuals and individuals making the right choice, not allowing themselves to be pressured by Donald Trump, individuals who defended the Capitol when it was attacked, the people in the administration who stood up to him that those those people prevented this from being far worse. And and I that's that's that's a lesson for all of us.
David Axelrod
00:53:46
Liz Cheney, it's great to be with you. You're playing an important role, an important time in our history, and have paid a political price for that. So you would you would warrant a chapter in that very slim volume.
Liz Cheney
00:53:59
Well, thank you for the time.
David Axelrod
00:54:01
And I'm grateful to you for it.
Liz Cheney
00:54:03
Always great to talk to you. And I hope we get to do it in person one of these days.
David Axelrod
00:54:07
I look forward to it. If the airlines cooperate, we will.
Liz Cheney
00:54:11
Exactly. Thanks, David.
David Axelrod
00:54:12
Thank you.
Intro
00:54:17
Thank you for listening to The Axe Files brought to you by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN Audio. The executive producer of the show is Allyson Siegel. The show is also produced by Miriam Fender Annenberg, Jeff Fox and Hannah Grace McDonald. And special thanks to our partners at CNN, including Rafeena Ahmad and Megan Marcus. For more programing from the IOP, visit politics.uchicago.edu.