Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, dangerously claimed FBI officials who launched the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election could be guilty of committing treason.
During an interview Sunday that likely appealed to President Donald Trump, Cheney pointed to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI staffers who sent text messages disparaging Trump, to claim the bureau’s entire investigation was predicated on political motivations.
“I think what is really crucially important to remember here is that you had Strzok and Page who were in charge of launching this investigation and they were saying things like we must stop this president, we need an insurance policy against this president,” Cheney told ABC’s “This Week.”
“When you have people that are in the highest echelons of the law enforcement of this nation saying things like that, that sounds an awful lot like a coup and it could well be treason,” she added.
Cheney’s startling remarks alleging a coup and treason ― a crime punishable by death ― refer to a text message Strzok sent to Page in August 2016 mentioning an “insurance policy.”
Strzok had described the FBI’s need to proceed with its investigation into whether Russian operatives were leveraging Trump campaign officials even though Trump could lose the 2016 election as an “insurance policy.”
As The Washington Post has noted, the “insurance policy” text has been misinterpreted ― perhaps, willfully ― by Trump and other Republicans as suggesting the FBI planned to use the Russia inquiry to remove him from office.
Strzok and Page have stated any personal political biases they had did not impact their professional work. Both were removed from the investigation in December 2017 after special counsel Robert Mueller learned of their anti-Trump text messages.
Nonetheless, Trump has repeatedly accused the two “lovers” (Strzok and Page were engaged in an extramarital affair at the time) and other former FBI officials of committing treason and unfairly “spying” on his campaign.
“I think that we need to know more,” Cheney said Sunday. “We need to know what was [former FBI Director James] Comey’s role in all of this? These people reported to him, [former FBI Deputy Director] Andy McCabe reported to him. What was Comey’s role in that?”
She applauded Attorney General William Barr’s sprawling investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe and defended his decision not to release an unredacted version of the Mueller report to Congress and the public.
“We have to have confidence in our law enforcement,” she said. “And the attorney general has got to get to the bottom of what happened, how it was that those people were allowed to misuse and abuse their power that way.”
Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, slammed Cheney over her treason accusation.
“Elected officials keep making casual, ignorant, idiotic accusations of ‘treason,’” he tweeted. “Trump does it. Just saw Liz Cheney do it. Read the Constitution and knock it the hell off.”
Cheney on Sunday also went to bat for Trump on several other issues, including the president’s bizarre tweet a day earlier defending North Korea’s recent missile launches, which national security adviser John Bolton said violated United Nations resolutions.
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
Asked for her thoughts on Trump’s friendly comments about a “murderous dictator,” Cheney told ABC that the president is “doing the right thing in terms of the policy.” She didn’t acknowledge Trump’s remarks about Biden.
Cheney also seemed none too concerned when asked about Trump’s reported plan to pardon former U.S. servicemen accused of war crimes, including a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis.
“The president will have to make a decision on that,” she told ABC. “That is the president’s decision to make completely, and we’ll see what happens.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the Constitution set the death penalty as the punishment for treason. While the definition of treason was established in the Constitution, the punishment of death was decided by the first U.S. Congress.