Liz Cheney, focused on stopping Trump, hasn't ruled out 3rd-party run The former representative says a second Trump presidency would be an "existential threat" to democracy: "There's simply no defense, no excuse for putting that power back in the hands of Donald Trump."

Liz Cheney, focused on stopping Trump, hasn't ruled out 3rd-party presidential run

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is Liz Cheney, who has written a new memoir which she describes as, quote, "the story of the moment American democracy began to unravel and the story of the most dangerous man ever to inhabit the Oval Office and of the many steps he took to subvert our Constitution," unquote. Cheney was one of two Republicans who served on the House Select Committee investigating January 6.

Her book is in part about that investigation. She also reveals new information about what she witnessed behind the scenes in the House of Representatives Republican conference before and after Trump and his enablers challenged the election results, falsely claiming he won. Those enablers include Kevin McCarthy, who was then the House speaker and Mike Johnson, who was the chair of the Republican Study Committee and then vice chair of the House Republican Conference, which is the second-highest ranking member of the House leadership. Johnson is now House speaker. Liz Cheney worked closely with Johnson and McCarthy, serving as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest ranking member of the House leadership. She was ousted from that position because she voted to impeach Trump in 2021.

It wasn't a big surprise when she lost her primary campaign last year to a Trump-endorsed candidate in a state - Wyoming - that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Her new memoir is titled "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." The warning is about the threat to our democracy if Trump is reelected in 2024. We recorded our interview yesterday.

Liz Cheney, welcome to FRESH AIR. You write so strong is the lure of power that men and women who had seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump. One example you give is Kevin McCarthy, who was House speaker at the time of the election and of the denial that Trump won. Two days after the election, he told you, Trump knows that it's over. So you're convinced that Trump knew. On November 5, two days after the election, when the vote was likely to soon be called for Biden, you say McCarthy appeared to be dealing in reality. But a few hours later, on Fox News, McCarthy said President Trump won this election, so everyone who is listening do not be quiet. We cannot allow this to happen before our eyes. What was your reaction when you heard that?

LIZ CHENEY: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me, Terry. It's always...

GROSS: My pleasure.

CHENEY: ...Wonderful to be on with you. You know, I was surprised, to put it mildly, because, of course, you know, he and I had spoken and Kevin had been clear that, you know, he talked to Trump and that Trump knew that he'd lost. And so I was surprised, and a number of my colleagues were, of course, surprised, and some were frankly angry. And I began hearing from them, concerned that, you know, there was no evidence for this idea that somehow the election had been stolen. And yet, here was the leader of the Republicans in the House out echoing the claims that Trump had been making.

GROSS: You write that sometimes Kevin McCarthy had Trump secretly dialed in to meetings, not informing the entire Republican conference. So the entire Republican conference was having a meeting. McCarthy secretly dialed Trump in. So Trump was listening to this meeting. When? How often did that happen? During what kind of discussions? What can you tell us about that?

CHENEY: So during COVID, the meetings that the House Republican Conference had normally, you know, and prior to that been having in person, we had to switch to phone calls. And we had always done some of our meetings when, you know, Congress was in recess and members were back in their districts, it wasn't unusual to have a conference call of all of the Republicans. And there were a couple of occasions where Kevin mentioned to me that, in fact, the president was listening in on the calls and the - it was clear to me in a couple of those instances that he probably had told other members, but not everyone knew, but he had probably told a select few that this was the case because there would be, you know, sort of even more than the normal level of flattery of the former president if people knew that he was on the call. So I think it was just sort of a standard way of operating. I don't know how many times it happened. I just know there were a couple of times when Kevin told me that, in fact, that was going on.

GROSS: So Mike Johnson, the new House speaker, who at the time of the election was the vice chair of the Republican Conference, on December 9 of 2020, he sent an email to the Republican House members with a subject line time-sensitive request from President Trump. So this was after the election, but before January 6, when Congress had to certify the election. So describe the request.

CHENEY: So the state of Texas had filed suit and essentially was asking that the Supreme Court take action. Essentially, Texas was saying that steps that other states had taken with respect to how they held - conducted the presidential election, that those steps were unconstitutional. And...

GROSS: Can I mention that these were four states in which Biden won?

CHENEY: Correct. Yes.

GROSS: So that's why those were targeted.

CHENEY: Yeah. And I think that's a very important point you make. Because those four states where Biden had won were targeted, there were a number of other states that had also changed their rules in a way that was completely appropriate and legal. And, you know, in which courts had held that the changes that those states had made were, in fact, proper. But those states where Trump won were not ever challenged. And I think that is an important point that we'll come to later on with the objections in the House. But in this case, Johnson was - he was taking the lead in getting Republican members of the House to sign on to an amicus brief essentially asking the court to hear the Texas case. And the email that he sent around that morning had in it language that said that he was keeping a list, essentially, and that President Trump would be reviewing the list to see which Republican members had signed on.

And again, this was a situation where I began hearing very soon after this email went out from other colleagues asking - first of all, you know, concerned that this was some kind of a threat, that Johnson was saying that members should sign on. And of course, the implication was, you know, if you don't sign on, Trump will find out. And secondly, the email that he sent included a - his signature line as vice chairman of the conference even though it came from his Gmail account. And so members asked me, you know, is this an official position of leadership that we sign on to this brief? And so it created a significant sort of tension within the conference about what he was pushing and urging people to do.

GROSS: Why do you think he signed it from his personal account? Do you think he was trying to hide it from people outside of the Republican conference?

CHENEY: No. I mean, I think that, you know, you'd have to ask him, obviously. I think probably because, you know, it may just have been that there was some political aspect to it, and he didn't want to use his official account. I didn't take that to be some sort of subterfuge. But the fact that, you know, he was suggesting that there was a list he would be keeping, and also the description that he gave people of the brief was, you know, basically, he told members in the cover email that - you know, that we were not asserting any facts as to how the election had been conducted in these four states, but rather, we were just asking, you know, the court to hear the president's - or to hear the Texas case.

And - but then when I read the amicus brief, it was clear that wasn't the case, that the brief did, in fact, include extensive lists of allegations about how these states had conducted their elections. And in many instances, either the president or his supporters had already gone to court in those states - in both state and federal court in some instances - to bring these challenges. And the courts had all ruled against the president. And so, you know, he was, in fact, encouraging members to sign on to a suit that itself, in my view, was unconstitutional, but also in which they were making claims for which they had no basis in fact and claims that had already been rejected by lower courts.

GROSS: With the unspoken goal of overturning the results of the election.

CHENEY: Correct. I mean, that was certainly the objective.

GROSS: So what was the outcome of this request to sign on to the brief?

CHENEY: So something like 125 Republicans ended up signing on to the brief. A few hours after the brief was filed, you know, the court declined to hear the Texas case. And, again, it was unsurprising. They had no basis to hear the case. They did exactly what they should have done. But after the brief was filed and after the court declined to hear the case, I went back to Mike to say, listen, you know, we're - we've got to find a way to move forward here. We disagreed about that brief, but we're facing a really significant threat and challenge with the effort that's being made to suggest that the House should - that the Republicans in the House should object to electoral votes, should reject electoral votes.

And I thought perhaps I could convince him that we really should be looking to the future, that our constitutional duty required that we not object to these electoral votes. And we had a number of discussions where, you know, I thought that he might well play a constructive role because, you know, he and I had been friends. We'd been elected together the same year. I really thought that he was going to be a constructive member. But, of course, it turned out that I was wrong about that.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Liz Cheney, a former congresswoman from Wyoming. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AUERBACH SONG, "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Liz Cheney. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning."

So you think that the person who is now the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, played a very destructive role after the election and trying to overturn the results. What's your reaction to knowing that now he is the leader of the House Republican Conference?

CHENEY: You know, I - it concerns me greatly. And what concerns me is that Mike is not who he appears to be, you know? And I count - I talk in the book about my own experience, as we've been discussing, with learning that and realizing that. I think that the reason that he was elected unanimously by the House Republicans was a couple of things. One, the House Republicans had been through, you know, so many days without a speaker, and I think people were exhausted by that. And secondly, I think people didn't know the full details of his record.

But I think that someone who is willing to take action that he knows is wrong - you know, one of the things that I asked him as we were going through the whole debate about the amicus brief was, you know, whether or not people who signed on to the brief who were members of the bar would be, you know, raising significant ethical questions for themselves when they were, you know, asserting facts to the court about which they actually had no knowledge, no evidence. That raised serious ethical questions for any attorney who signed that amicus brief. And I - so I think there are serious questions about his veracity and about his willingness to take action that he knows is wrong in order to placate Donald Trump. And I think it's a dangerous thing to have someone occupy the speaker's chair who has done the things that he did.

GROSS: You expected that January 6 would be violent. And your father, who was listening to Trump's speech at the Ellipse right before the attack on the Capitol, he heard Trump tell the crowd that they should get - quote, "get rid of the Liz Cheneys of the world." So your father, Dick Cheney, former vice president, former secretary of defense, said, you're in danger. You need to think about whether to go forward with your remarks. But you had expected violence, and you had personal security with you that day. Did that help when the Capitol was attacked?

CHENEY: Well, I think a couple of things. First of all - and as I talk about in the book, there was a broad concern about the potential for violence. And we had a meeting of House Republicans on January 5, where one of our Republican colleagues, Debbie Lesko from Arizona, specifically raised this point and specifically asked then-leader McCarthy to ensure - she said she was very worried about the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who were coming to Washington because they thought that the election, in fact, you know, could be changed, that the result could be changed on January 6. And, you know, she said, what's going to happen when they realize that that's not true?

And when she asked leader McCarthy this question, you know, he said that he was going to go back and, you know, speak again to the sergeant at arms. He talked about some of the provisions that they had already been making, streets being closed, etc. So there was both a sense of the very real potential for violence, but also there were a number of occasions where from leader McCarthy we got assurances. And he talked about this after the 6th as well, you know, that people, you know, believed frankly that - well, the notion that somehow Speaker Pelosi, for example, had failed to yield warnings I think is - the lie to that notion is that leader McCarthy and other Republicans were having the same briefings that she was and reporting back that, in fact, you know, they believed that precautions were being taken.

Now, I think it's important to note that on this topic of violence, you know, the - one of the things that we really learned through the select committee investigation was how these threats of violence were known by the Secret Service, and that we had testimony and evidence that indicated the fact of the potential for violence and threats - and, in fact, the weapons that were found in the crowd, that that information was passed up the chain at the White House to the chief of staff and to the president. And at the end of the day, the person who sort of had the best knowledge, the only real knowledge of exactly how violent it was going to be, you know, was Donald Trump.

GROSS: So this is one of the reasons why you've said that it was really Trump who was responsible for January 6 and that - and basically that all roads lead back to him and that he intentionally didn't ask people to stop. I want to ask you about something. Do you want to contradict anything I just said?

CHENEY: No. I think both the fact that - you know, if you look at what many of the criminal defendants have actually said, they'll - they say - hundreds of them have said that they were there, they broke into the Capitol that day, they were there because Donald Trump sent them. And then as you mentioned, of course, you know, he failed to tell people to leave for hours while the attack was underway.

GROSS: Something that you're famous for, a line that you said is on January 6, when the Capitol was under attack. Jim Jordan said that we need to get the ladies off the aisle. And then he held out his hand to you saying let me help you. And you swatted his hand away and said, get away from me, you F-ing did this, meaning you're one of the people responsible for this attack. So you say that at the first House Republican conference call after the election, the first meeting after the election, Jordan said the only thing that matters is winning, implying he was willing to do anything to win and not pay that much attention to the legal arguments. Now he's trying to impeach Joe Biden as head of the House Judiciary Committee. What's your reaction to this movement now within the Republican leadership to impeach Biden?

CHENEY: Well, I think that several things are going on. I think, you know - and I have not seen the evidence itself. I've actually seen a number of Republican members say they themselves haven't seen the evidence yet, current members. So I don't want to comment specifically on the evidence, having not seen it. I do think it's interesting that just a few days ago, Speaker of the House Johnson indicated that there was not sufficient evidence to move forward. And, you know, that was maybe a week ago, and so I would be very curious to know exactly what's changed in the last week.

But I'm also confident that one of the things that's happening is that Donald Trump is telling them, you need to move forward with this. I think that, you know, Donald Trump's view is likely the fact that, you know, he's been impeached twice. And from a political standpoint, I think there's no question that he's likely urging the House Republicans to move forward to impeach Biden, you know, as a way to sort of level the impeachment playing field, if you will. So - but I do think one of the key questions is, how is it that Speaker Johnson has gone so quickly from talking about, you know, the fact that they did not have enough evidence yet to move forward with an inquiry to suddenly now saying, well, they are going to move forward.

GROSS: Well, we have to take another break here, so let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Liz Cheney. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." It's about Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the congressmen, lawyers and others who enabled him. We'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATRICK ZIMMERLI, BRAD MEHLDAU AND KEVIN HAYS' "GENERATRIX")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with Liz Cheney. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." The warning is about what might happen to our democracy if Donald Trump is elected to a second term. She voted to impeach Trump after January 6, and after that, was removed from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest ranking member of the House Republican leadership. She was one of two House Republicans who served on the House Select Committee investigating January 6.

One of the things I really wonder about is are the Republicans who have sided with Trump in places where Trump is clearly legally out of bounds, are they siding with him because they believe he's a great leader, or are they afraid of him? I'd be very interested in hearing what you have to say about that.

CHENEY: I think that's one of the key questions of this moment of American politics and history. And I think you have a very small number of members of the House, certainly, who actually believe in Trump's lies. Very small. I mean, probably you can count them almost on one hand. And then you have a much larger group who have made a political calculation that they're going to go along, and some of those are going along - you know, you've got now, I think, over 80 members of the House who've endorsed Trump in - for the 2024 nomination. And so, you know, some of those are pretty vocal. They know that what Trump is saying is not true. But, you know, they've made a political calculation.

And then you've got, you know, a - probably an even larger number who are just trying to stay silent and who, you know, will - some of them will say to me, for example, you know, thank you for what you're saying. Thank you for speaking the truth, you know, I just can't for whatever reason. And there are a lot of rationalizations. And there is a whole school of thought which I write about in the book where, you know, Senate Leader McConnell, somebody whom I've known for many, many years, someone for whom I have a lot of respect, I think that, you know, he's been a master tactician and has had, you know, really skilled political judgment in many occasions, he's one who has absolutely gotten this whole issue wrong and has urged repeatedly, you know, urged me directly that, well, we just need to ignore Trump and he'll go away.

And I think now we're seeing the real consequences of that. He's not going away. And, in fact, given the significance of the threat that he poses, when you have leaders of the Republican Party who suggest that we don't need to speak out, you know, then there's really no question, why would you expect voters, then, to think, well, yes, this threat is very grave if you have so many Republicans who are either supporting him or are simply staying silent.

GROSS: He poses a personal threat, too, because he attacks people verbally, and that can lead to physical attacks from his followers. And one of his followers called for people to protest around your home, and your daughter was there at the time. On January 6, at his speech at the Ellipse, he said we have to get rid of the Liz Cheneys. And when he says get rid of, like, does that mean, like, remove them from office, use the political process, or does he mean, like, do violence to them? You can interpret that any way you want to. And some people who are extreme or who are maybe mentally ill can interpret that as, like, the president is telling me to harm Liz Cheney and other people like her to get her out of the way. So do you think that kind of personal threat is affecting how people in Congress vote, how they behave, how they follow certain orders of his?

CHENEY: There's no question that it is. And, you know, although I think one could say, well, maybe before January 6, it wasn't clear whether or not Trump's words would lead to violence. It certainly is clear after January 6. And, you know, the extent to which Trump knows that his words led to violence that day, and yet, he still continues to say the same things, and he's never expressed any remorse. You know, in the days just after January 6, on one of our leadership phone calls and then again in a call with all of the House Republicans, Kevin McCarthy assured everyone that he had spoken to Donald Trump, that he'd asked him if he believed he had some responsibility for what happened on the 6th. And Trump assured McCarthy that yes, he did believe he had some.

And, you know, of course, then, in addition to the - you know, the - Trump's words and messaging, not just on the 6th, but in all of those days leading up to it, his spreading of lies, things that he knew to be false. And I do think that's a very important point. One of the things we showed in the January 6 Select Committee report was the extent to which - we produced a chart that shows the days when Trump was told that specific allegations he was making were false and by whom he was told. And then we show the day just after that when he went out and made the claim again. So he knew with specificity that what he was saying was not true. And he also knows that, you know, what he was saying and urging people to do led to the violence on January 6. And of course, he's glorified what happened on that day. So there's no question about his intent. And he has introduced violence into America's political process in a way that we have not seen, certainly, in many, many years.

GROSS: So you voted to impeach Donald Trump. And as a result, at a Republican conference meeting, which you chaired, you were ousted from your position as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House. Did you expect that that would be the consequence of your actions at a meeting that you chaired? It's just something so funny about that.

CHENEY: Well, it's an interesting thing because, of course, the first time that there was a big push to oust me from leadership was in February of 2021, and that was also at a meeting I chaired. It was about a four-hour long meeting of the House Republicans. And ultimately, that effort to remove me was unsuccessful. We had a vote, and I prevailed significantly. And that time, I made a real effort by calling people, by, you know, whipping votes, the term that we use in the Congress. By the time we got to May, which was when I was ousted, things had changed so dramatically. You know, in February of 2021, you could imagine a Republican Party that, you know, was going to move away from Trump and was going to look to the future. By May, that was clearly not happening.

And so in May, when the second attempt to oust me came up, you know, it was clear at that point that I would have to choose. And if I was going to stay in the leadership of the House Republicans, that would mean lying about the 2020 election. It would require that I join in the efforts to whitewash what had happened on January 6, that I lie about Donald Trump's involvement in those efforts. And I was unwilling to do that. And so I made a very conscious decision at that point that, you know, if the price of remaining in leadership was telling those lies, then I certainly was not willing to do that.

GROSS: My guest is Liz Cheney. Her new book is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE GROUP'S "IOWA TAKEN")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Liz Cheney. Her new book is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning."

You accepted Nancy Pelosi's invitation to join the House select committee investigating January 6. You became the vice chair of the committee. The other Republican who served with you, of course, was Adam Kinzinger. What was it like for you to work with Democrats who you'd previously opposed? You'd still disagree with them on most issues, but, you know, working with them for a common purpose to uphold the Constitution and investigate the events leading up to January 6 - did you change your opinions of them as people when you were actually working with them for a common purpose?

CHENEY: I think that that experience made me realize how often in politics we tend to depersonalize our opponents. And I think that's a very important realization, and I suspect that they probably had the same realization, you know, about working with me. It can become very easy in politics to sort of go to your partisan corner and launch attacks - sometimes personal attacks. And I think that, you know, what we all need to recognize is that that's not good for this country, especially in the moment in which we're living. So it was - you know, I write about it as feeling at moments as though I was a visitor from another planet when I was suddenly, you know, sitting in Nancy Pelosi's conference room surrounded by some of the most well-known and senior Democrats in the House of Representatives, some of whom I had worked with, but some of whom I had, you know, never spoken with before that first meeting of the committee.

GROSS: One of the questions the January 6 House committee was unable to solve had to do with Ronny Jackson, Trump's former White House physician. And on January 6, one of the Oath Keepers - and this is one of the far-right groups whose leader was convicted of seditious conspiracy. So a member of this group messaged that Jackson needed protection because he has critical data to protect. And the committee was unable to find, like, what is this critical data? Has anything been revealed since then? And why is this such an important clue?

CHENEY: Well, we were very curious as to why the Oath Keepers - of course, this group - leaders of which have now been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role on January 6 - you know, why this group that was one of the main groups responsible for the assault on the Capitol - why they were texting about Ronny Jackson, a member of Congress who had actually been Donald Trump's White House physician before he was elected to Congress. And as far as we knew, there were no other members about whom the Oath Keepers themselves were texting. And, you know, in the case of Ronny Jackson, they were suggesting that he needed help and that the Oath Keepers could provide that help. And so I think that, you know, it is a set of very important questions. The Department of Justice obviously has tools that the select committee did not have. And I do think that they are the best place to be able to get to the bottom of, why were the Oath Keepers talking about Ronny Jackson, and exactly what data did he have that they thought should be protected?

GROSS: The subtitle of your book is an oath and a warning, and the warning is about the dangers posed if Trump is elected to a second term. What do you fear a second term would be like?

CHENEY: I think this is such an important question for people to really stop and focus on. One of the things that we know now is that we were saved from a much more significant constitutional crisis because of the people around Trump and because of Republicans around the country - for example, state legislative officials who resisted Donald Trump's pressure, who resisted his instructions that they, you know, flip votes for Biden to be votes for Trump, for example. We know he was stopped by people at his Justice Department, at the White House counsel's office, by the vice president, who wouldn't do what Trump wanted.

And so the first thing people have to recognize is those types of individuals will not be there in a second Trump term. Trump himself has talked about appointing people like Mike Flynn. Flynn is the one who suggested that Donald Trump could call out the military and rerun elections in swing states. He suggested he might appoint Jeff Clark. Clark is the Justice Department official who was willing to lie about the election and attempt to encourage legislatures around the country to overturn the results and flip Biden votes to be Trump votes. So there will not be those individuals around him to stop him.

Secondly, we know that he's not going to abide by the rulings of the courts if he disagrees with them, and that's very significant to have the potential that you'll have a president of the United States, who's charged with, you know, taking care that the laws are faithfully executed, willing to ignore the rulings of the courts. And Justice Felix Frankfurter said once that - in a famous concurrence that if every man is allowed to determine for himself what the law is, then you'll have chaos, and that'll be soon followed by tyranny. And that's the threat that we're looking at with Donald Trump.

GROSS: Trump says he plans that - if reelected, he plans to investigate and punish his critics. Presumably, that would include you. What are you expecting for yourself and for other, quote, "critics" who have challenged Trump? What kind of punishment do you think he would try to mete out?

CHENEY: Well, I mean, look. I think that he's been very clear in saying that - you know, he talks about retribution. He talks about weaponizing the levers of our government against his political opponents. I don't, you know, view that so much through the lens of what it would mean for me personally, but I think that what it would mean for the republic is that we won't be a republic anymore. And it's not as though people have to guess about what he would do or have to predict what he would do because he tells us every single day.

And what we really are obligated to do is to take those threats very seriously. We have not had a president like that before. And, you know, the presidency is in office. It's the most powerful office probably in the world. And as citizens, we have an obligation to think carefully about, you know, who is the person we're going to entrust with that awesome power and authority? And there's simply no defense, no excuse for putting that power back in the hands of Donald Trump, who attempted to seize power and stay in office already once illegally.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here. My guest is Liz Cheney. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "SUGAR RUM CHERRY (DANCE OF THE SUGAR-PLUM FAIRY)")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with Liz Cheney. Her new memoir is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning."

You are now, like, persona non grata among Republicans. You were ousted from the Wyoming Republican Party, and you haven't ruled out a run for president. You haven't ruled out running as an independent or maybe a third-party run. If you ran and didn't win, do you think you'd be taking more votes away from Trump or Biden? Do you think - I know if you ran - 'cause you've said this - that if you ran, it would be to defeat Trump, to take votes away from Trump. But how do you know that that would work and that it wouldn't backfire and take votes away from Biden?

CHENEY: Well, I haven't made a decision yet about whether or not I'm going to get engaged and involved in that way. What I do know is that I'm going to do everything I can to stop Donald Trump. And I think that, you know, we're in a situation today as a country that - we can't look at our politics through the lens that we have for the last, you know, many, many years.

And we have to recognize, given this existential threat that is now arising within the country, you have to put partisanship aside. And I think we're at a moment where Republicans and Democrats and independents have to be willing to say, look. We're going to come together and work on behalf of the Constitution. And whether that means a third-party run, whether that means helping to ensure that we elect people who believe in the Constitution to the House and Senate regardless of party, whether it means supporting someone else as an opponent to Trump, you know, I'm going to do whatever it takes and whatever is necessary to make sure that he's defeated because the threat's that grave.

GROSS: If you didn't run yourself, would you vote for Biden over Trump if that was the best way of defeating Trump?

CHENEY: Well, I'm certainly never going to vote for Trump. And we don't know yet exactly, you know, who the nominees will be on either side, frankly. I think that, you know, there is a chance that Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee, although each day that goes by, that chance becomes slimmer. So I'm not going to endorse today. I will just tell you I would never again vote for Donald Trump. And I will do everything that I can to make sure that he's not our president again.

GROSS: Did you vote for him twice?

CHENEY: I did.

GROSS: So I'm curious. Like, what did you see in him in the sense that - you know, certainly even before the first election, he was so litigious as a businessman. There were so many lawsuits against him and so many lawsuits that he filed. He made claims about his finances that weren't true. He bragged about being able to grab women by their genitals because he was a celebrity, and they let you do that if you're a celebrity. There were sexual harassment allegations, sexual assault allegations surrounding him. Two ethics czars - one from the George W. Bush administration, one from the Obama administration - had many ethical, really serious questions about what kind of president he'd be and whether he was qualified to serve. And by the second - after his first term, we'd seen, you know, some of the actions he was capable of. So why did you want to vote for him for a second term?

CHENEY: Well, I certainly wish I hadn't.

GROSS: I know. Yeah, I know (laughter).

CHENEY: And - you know.

GROSS: Yeah.

CHENEY: I think that, you know, certainly I was representing Wyoming and the policies that the Trump administration - not necessarily him, but the policies the Trump administration put in place in areas like energy policy, land use management policy, some of the things that really mattered for my constituents in Wyoming, some of the issues that mattered with respect to national security, in terms of defense spending. There were issues that I'd been working on that I thought were very important for Wyoming, I still think are important for Wyoming and for the country. And I think what people need to know now going into this next election is that just can't be an option. And as Republicans and as Americans, we have to be able to find a way where we can advocate for those kinds of policies where we aren't having to choose someone who's shown that he has a complete lack of respect for and willingness to abide by his oath to the Constitution.

GROSS: But this is probably a real dilemma for elected leaders like yourself. You say you voted for him a second time because that's what your constituents wanted. And, in fact, in Wyoming, I mean, Trump won by a landslide in the second term, right?

CHENEY: He did, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

CHENEY: Well - and, I mean, it's interesting because, you know, when I went back and looked at the numbers, you know, his percentage in the general in Wyoming and my percentage in the general in Wyoming in 2020 were very close. Very significant - Wyoming gave him the largest majority - largest margin of victory of any state in the country. And again, I - look, I think that from a conservative standpoint, there were policies in his administration, because of a number of the people that he had in place at cabinets and around the administration, that were good policies. Now, the issue, though, is that right now we're faced with a choice between - you know, if you have to say, look, the country can sustain several years of bad policies. We cannot sustain somebody willing to torch the Constitution. And no matter where you are in terms of saying, I made the decision at this moment or this moment, once you get through January 6, once you get through him trying to seize power and overturn an election, you know, there's no - that's a line that can never be crossed. And there's no defense for that.

GROSS: You're alienated from your party, as are many other Republicans. What do you think the best alternative is? Do you think it's, like, a third party? Do you think it's an attempt to refashion this Republican Party as it is now into something that is less conspiracy-oriented, more constitutional and fact-based?

CHENEY: I think that there are two things that have to happen. One is, in the near term, the defeat of Donald Trump. The second thing is either building a new party or, you know, bringing the Republican Party back from the abyss of this cult of personality that has engulfed it. But that second thing of whether or not it's building a new conservative party or rebuilding the Republican Party, that is going to take time. That's not something that can happen before the 2024 election. And, frankly, I worry that if we focus too much on that, we will take our eye off the ball of the defeat of Donald Trump in '24. So I do think, you know, both of those things have to happen. But I think it's a matter of sequencing and what has to happen in this cycle versus what can happen after that.

GROSS: Do you still want to play a part in government, or do you think that you would be more effective on the outside? And do you know what you want for yourself now? It's a turning point in your life.

CHENEY: Well, look, I love this country. I'm a mother, and I am committed to making sure that my kids live in a country that is characterized by the peaceful transfer of power. I've spent many years in my career working in countries around the world that aren't free, countries that - where people yearn for the kind of freedom that we have in this nation. And so, you know, I don't know what role, you know, I will play specifically at this point. I haven't made that decision yet, but I certainly would - I feel very honored to have been able to be engaged and involved in the defense of this country. And I will certainly continue to do everything I can for as long as I can to do so.

GROSS: Well, be well, and thank you so much.

CHENEY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Liz Cheney's new book is called "Oath And Honor: A Memoir And A Warning." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, the subject will be menstruation. Why is it so stigmatized, even though it's something about half the population experiences? Our guest will be Lina Lyte Plioplyte, whose new documentary "Periodical" examines menstruation from the perspectives of history, biology, mood, religious rituals and the personal experiences of women. I hope you'll join us.

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GROSS: To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

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