There is no clear dividing line between the legitimate purposes of a congressional investigation and the partisan purposes of the majority party that leads the investigation, but the balance usually devolves toward partisan agendas even when the underlying matter is serious, like Watergate. The only way to contain partisan motivations properly is for the minority party to have vigorous members on the investigating committee to hold the majority accountable and assure, to the extent possible in a proceeding not bound by the normal legal rules of the courtroom, that evidence and testimony is subject to skepticism and scrutiny, and that deeper principles of constitutional government are brought to the surface.
One person who served this role with honor and distinction in the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings was Wyoming’s lone member of the House, Dick Cheney. That was a long time ago now, but keep in mind that Democrats thought they had the perfect sequel to Watergate set up, and fully intended to move to impeach President Reagan if the hearings of the joint House-Senate select committee could assemble enough dirt to throw at Reagan. Of course the committee’s hearings didn’t succeed as Democrats had intended, but that story will have to be left for another time (though you can read my account of it in Chapter 11 of my Age of Reagan, volume 2).
Still, the outcome was notable for the stellar work of Dick Cheney and his chief counsel, David Addington, who produced the minority report that subtly called out the bad faith of Democrats along with substantive arguments about how congressional Democrats had improperly undermined the constitutional authority of the president to conduct foreign policy. Reagan complained in his diary about the difficulty of conducting foreign policy with “535 secretaries of state up on Capitol Hill.” Cheney’s minority report put the substance behind this argument.
Imagine if then-Speaker Jim Wright had rejected Cheney’s appointment to the Iran-Contra select committee, and appointed weak or anti-Reagan Republicans instead. Clearly everyone would have understood that the joint select committee was illegitimate, a kangaroo court that could not hide its partisan purposes behind investigatory doubletalk.
This is one reason why the January 6 Committee is illegitimate because of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unprecedented decision to reject Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the committee. Even if you think Trump is a defective person and disastrous president, he deserves a defense in the hearings, and the results of the J-6 committee would have more credibility if it included at least one Trump defender. No doubt the hearings would be contentious and volatile if Jim Jordan—the fiery ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee—had been named, but several of McCarthy’s picks seemed eminently objective. No Republicans should have agreed to serve on the committee after Pelosi’s outrageous decision to rig the committee. It is already clear that the outcome of this farce will be indistinguishable from a process that included no Republicans.
Which brings us to the current Cheney serving as the lone House member from Wyoming. By now it is evident that Liz Cheney did not join this committee with the purpose of objectively considering the facts and evidence of Trump and January 6, or treating Trump with any degree of fairness. This is made most evident by the TV spot her dad has cut (found at the end of this post if you haven’t seen it) endorsing her re-election based chiefly on the conclusion that “there has never been an individual who was a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.” (I assume he means “domestic” individual, though I suppose it is possible Dick has gone fully into the “Trump is worse than Hitler” fever swamp.) Further, it is Liz Cheney’s purpose to see to it that “Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office.”
Isn’t that something for the voters to decide?
I don’t think the former Vice President looks very good in this spot, though to be fair he’s had serious health issues (including a heart transplant in recent years). I’ve always liked and admired the man, having met him and conversed with him on several occasions over the years. The news today, however, that Liz Cheney says she might not be able to support Ron DeSantis if he is the GOP 2024 nominee is yet another sign of how Trump has undone so many once sensible people. It is one thing to believe Trump has character and judgment flaws that make him unsuited for the presidency, and I can respect my many friends who hold this view. But too many people seem to have let Trump turn them against all Republicans across the board, which shows bad faith. (I’ll treat some of the central issues of January 6 later, but if Trump’s claims of election irregularities or the role of the Vice President in certifying the election lacked any foundation, why is Congress thinking of amending the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to clear up the ambiguities and defects of the statute?)
In fact, I predict that if Liz Cheney loses her upcoming GOP primary, as most think she will, Cheney may try to run as an independent candidate in November to deny her Republican opponent by splitting the vote. Wyoming has a “sore loser” law that should prevent this kind of thing, but you can expect some well-funded lawsuits on Liz’s behalf to overcome the law and get on the ballot, even as a write-in if necessary.
As a certain towering figure in America these days might put it, “Sad!”