Rep. Liz Cheney faces off against Trump-endorsed challenger in Wyoming GOP primary debate

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Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., defended her work on the Jan. 6 Committee and her criticism of former President Donald Trump in a debate Thursday against her Republican primary challengers, including Trump's pick to unseat her.

Cheney faces a handful of challengers in Wyoming's August primary, but Trump-endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman is the biggest threat to unseat the three-term incumbent.

Trump has set a target on Cheney’s back as he tries to establish absolute fealty to him within the Republican party.

Cheney has been among the few Republicans to openly defy Trump. She was one of 10 Republicans who voted for his impeachment after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, and she serves as vice chair of the committee investigating the attack.

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The debate, broadcast by Wyoming PBS, largely focused on Cheney's position on the House Jan. 6 committee and Trump’s claims of election fraud.

Hageman tiptoed around Trump’s baseless claims of fraud but has openly cast doubt on the 2020 election, saying there were “serious questions” about the election.

She cited the “2000 Mules” film – discredited by independent fact-checkers – that alleges Democrats illegally stuffed ballot boxes to rig the election. Former Attorney General Bill Barr, who authorized the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud, said he was “unimpressed” with the film.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, delivers her "Time for Choosing" speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Simi Valley, Calif.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, delivers her "Time for Choosing" speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Simi Valley, Calif.

Aware of Trump’s backing, Cheney singled out Hageman’s endorsement.

“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,” said Cheney. “She knows it wasn’t stolen. I think she can’t say that it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump.”

Hageman, like Trump, has downplayed the Capitol attack and the Jan. 6 committee for “focusing on something that happened 18 months ago.” She said Cheney’s work on the committee has left her out of touch with Wyoming voters.

“The only time that the (Jan. 6) situation ever comes up is when people talk about how unfair this entire committee is,” said Hageman, calling the committee “unfair.”

Cheney accused Hageman of failing her oath to the Constitution, and saidthe Republican party is “now embracing a cult of personality. I won’t be part of that. I’ll always stand to my oath and stand for the truth.”

Cheney also compared Hageman to Trump’s former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has peddled unproven and debunked conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election.

“I also know that the truth matters. And the claims that Ms. Hageman is making about the 2020 election are the same claims that the President’s lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was disbarred,” said Cheney. “It is not true that there was sufficient fraud to change the results of the 2020 election.”

Wyoming candidate for Governor Harriet Hageman walks on stage to introduce former President Donald Trump at a rally on May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyoming.
Wyoming candidate for Governor Harriet Hageman walks on stage to introduce former President Donald Trump at a rally on May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyoming.

“Now if Ms. Hageman is standing up here claiming that the election was stolen or that there was fraud sufficient to overturn the election, she ought to say it,” continued Cheney. “Otherwise she needs to stop making claims that are not true and she ought to tell the people of Wyoming the truth.”

Other candidates on the debate stage were businesswoman Robin Belinsky, Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, and Army veteran Denton Knapp.

All three echoed Hageman's downplaying the Jan. 6 Committee and disputing the 2020 election.

Referring to the Capitol attack, Belinsky said Jan. 6 "happened a while ago" and "was a set-up from the beginning for the election situation." Knapp pointed to alleged "voting machines suspected of fraud." And Bouchard said the election was unfairly influenced by "all the major internets."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wyoming GOP primary: Rep. Liz Cheney debates Trump-backed challenger