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Cheney tells debate some in GOP are ‘embracing a cult of personality’ with Trump

Jan. 6 committee vice chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and attorney Harriet Hageman squared off with other Republican candidates

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Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., gives opening remarks to the House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

Vice Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., gives opening remarks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a yearlong investigation, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Jan. 6, 2021, took center stage at a Wyoming debate for the House seat of Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chairwoman of the select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

At the debate Thursday in Sheridan, Wyoming, Cheney faced off against Republican challengers, including attorney Harriet Hageman, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Cheney defended the committee, as well as her remarks earlier this week at the Ronald Reagan Library, saying Republicans must choose between Trump and the Constitution.

“There are politicians in this country beginning with Donald Trump, who have lied to American people and people have been betrayed,” Cheney said. “He consistently has said the election was stolen, when it wasn’t.”

“I think absolutely there’s no question that what we saw happen on Jan. 6 was clearly an attempt to delay the count of the electoral votes,” Cheney said.

Cheney said some people are “now embracing a cult of personality, and I won’t be part of that, and I will always stand for my oath and stand for the truth.”

Hageman disagreed that Jan. 6 was a threat and called the committee “totally unfair.”

“I do not believe that the Republican Party is at some kind of an impasse where we’re splitting into these splinter groups,” Hageman said.

Hageman adviser Bill Stepien previously worked as Trump’s campaign manager, and he said, during a taped interview played by the committee, that the campaign knew Trump was likely to lose the election after then-candidate Joe Biden won Arizona, and he discouraged Trump from falsely claiming he won before the election was called.

Stepien “believes the election was not stolen,” Cheney said, and “I’d be interested to know whether or not my opponent, Ms. Hageman, is willing to say here tonight that the election was not stolen.”

“She knows it wasn’t stolen,” Cheney said. “I think that she can’t say it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump, and if she says it wasn’t stolen he will not support her, so we’ve got to be honest, we’ve got to be truthful.”

Other candidates in the debate also downplayed the Jan. 6 attack. Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Buchard called the attack “something that happened that people disagree on” and the committee is a “kangaroo court.”

Republican Robyn Belinskey called Jan. 6 “something that happened a while ago” and said she’s watched videos about it.

“I have actually watched several hours of video myself from every angle myself and have done my own due diligence on this,” she said.

Even as the candidates debated whether or not Trump’s efforts to overturn the election were a serious threat, they argued that voters weren’t focused on Jan. 6.

“I think that this is an example of how the press and certain people have obsessed over Jan. 6, because now we’ve had two questions in this debate and they’ve both been focused on that,” Hageman said.

She said the only time voters bring up Jan. 6 is when they talk about how unfair it is.

Cheney was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party last year, but she set a personal fundraising record earlier this year when her campaign brought in $2.94 million in the first quarter. Hageman raised more than $1.3 million in the same time period.

Wyoming’s primary will be held Aug. 16.