Liz Cheney Lied About Her Role in Spreading the Discredited CIA "Russian Bounty" Story
As part of her ideological war to reclaim the GOP for neocons, the now-deposed House leader falsely denied her role in a tale designed to block withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In an interview on Tuesday with Fox News’ Bret Baier, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) denied that she spread the discredited CIA "Russian bounty” story. That CIA tale, claiming Russia was paying Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, was cooked up by the CIA and then published by The New York Times on June 27 of last year, right as former President Trump announced his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The Times story, citing anonymous intelligence officials, was then continually invoked by pro-war Republicans and Democrats — led by Cheney — to justify their blocking of that troop withdrawal. The story was discredited when the U.S. intelligence community admitted last month that it had only “low to moderate confidence” that any of this even happened.
When Baier asked Cheney about her role in spreading this debunked CIA story, Cheney blatantly lied to him, claiming “if you go back and look at what I said — every single thing I said: I said if those stories are true, we need to know why the President and Vice President were not briefed on them.” After Baier pressed her on the fact that she vested this story with credibility, Cheney insisted a second time that she never endorsed the claim but merely spoke conditionally, always using the “if these reports are true” formulation. Watch Cheney deny her role in spreading that story.
Liz Cheney, as she so often does, blatantly lied. That she merely spoke of the Russian bounty story in the conditional — “every single thing I said: I said if those stories are true” — is completely and demonstrably false. Indeed, other than Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), there are few if any members of Congress who did more to spread this Russian bounty story as proven truth, all in order to block troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In so doing, she borrowed from a pro-war playbook pioneered by her dad, to whom she owes her career: the former Vice President would leak CIA claims to The New York Times to justify war, then go on Meet the Press with Tim Russert, as he did on September 8, 2002, and cite those New York Times reports as though they were independent confirmation of his views coming from that paper rather than from him:
MR. RUSSERT: What, specifically, has [Saddam] obtained that you believe would enhance his nuclear development program? …..
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Now, in the case of a nuclear weapon, that means either plutonium or highly enriched uranium. And what we’ve seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms, is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.
MR. RUSSERT: Aluminum tubes.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Specifically aluminum tubes. There’s a story in The New York Times this morning this is — I don’t — and I want to attribute The Times. I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it’s now public that, in fact, [Saddam] has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.
So having CIA stories leak to the press that fuel the pro-war case, then having pro-war politicians cite those to justify their pro-war position, is a Cheney Family speciality.
On July 1, the House Armed Services Committee, of which Rep. Cheney is a member, debated amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that authorized $740.5 billion in military spending. One of Cheney's top priorities was to align with the Committee's pro-war Democrats, funded by weapons manufacturers, to block Trump's plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2020 and to withdraw roughly 1/3 of the 34,000 U.S. troops in Germany.
To justify her opposition, Cheney — contrary to what she repeatedly insisted to Baier — cited the CIA's Russian bounty story without skepticism. In a joint statement with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, that Cheney published on her website on June 27 — the same day that The New York Times published its first story about the CIA tale — Cheney pronounced herself "concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces.” There was nothing conditional about the statement: they were preparing to block troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and cited this story as proof that “Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan.”
After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces. It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan. We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces. Congress has no more important obligation than providing for the security of our nation and ensuring our forces have the resources they need.
An even more definitive use of this Russia bounty story came when Cheney held a press conference to explain her opposition to Trump's plans to withdraw troops. In this statement, she proclaimed that she "remains concerned about Russian activities in Afghanistan.” She then explicitly threatened Russia over the CIA's “bounty” story, warning them that “any targeting of U.S. forces by Russians, by anyone else, will face a very swift and deadly response.” She then gloated about the U.S. bombing of Russia-linked troops in Syria in 2018 using what she called “overwhelming and lethal force,” and warned that this would happen again if they target U.S. forces in Afghanistan:
Does this sound even remotely like what Cheney claimed to Baier? She denied having played a key role in spreading the Russia bounty story because, as she put it, “every single thing I said, I said: if those stories are true.” She also told him that she never referred to that CIA claim except by saying: “if these reports are true.” That is false.
The issue is not merely that Cheney lied: that would hardly be news. It is that the entire media narrative about Cheney's removal from her House leadership role is a fraud. Her attacks on Trump and her party leadership were not confined to criticisms of the role played by the former president in contesting the validity of the 2020 election outcome or inciting the January 6 Capitol riot — because Liz Cheney is such a stalwart defender of the need for truth and adherence to the rule of law in politics.
Cheney played the key role in forming an alliance with pro-war Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee to repeatedly defeat the bipartisan anti-war minority [led by Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)] to prevent any meaningful changes promised by Trump during the 2016 campaign to put an end to the U.S. posture of Endless War. As I reported about the House Armed Services Committee hearing last July, the CIA tale was repeatedly cited by Cheney and her allies to justify ongoing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.
Cheney is motivated by power, not ethics. In 2016, Trump ran — and won — by explicitly inveighing against the Bush/Cheney foreign policy of endless war, militarism and imperialism that Liz Cheney, above all else, still vehemently supports. What she is attempting to do is reclaim the Republican Party and deliver it back to the neocons and warmongers who dominated it under her father's reign. She is waging an ideological battle, not an ethical one, for control of the Republican Party.
That will be a debate for Republican voters to resolve. In the meantime, Liz Cheney cannot be allowed to distance herself from the CIA's fairy tale about Russians in Afghanistan. Along with pro-war Democrats, she used this conveniently leaked CIA story repeatedly to block troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. And just as her father taught her to do — by example if not expressly — she is now lying to distance herself from a pro-war CIA script that she, in fact, explicitly promoted.
For those who have not seen it, I produced a one-hour video report last July on how and why the House Armed Services Committee succeeded in enacting virtually every pro-war amendment they considered and how this was accomplished through an alliance between Liz Cheney and her neocon GOP allies on the one hand, and pro-war, Raytheon-funded Democrats on the other: