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McCarthy claimed Trump was ‘not eating’ after leaving office, Cheney says

Former president Donald Trump met with Kevin McCarthy at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., in January 2021.Save America PAC

WASHINGTON — Former president Donald Trump was “really depressed” in the days after losing reelection and leaving office in January 2021, so much so that he was “not eating.”

At least, that is what Kevin McCarthy told Liz Cheney in trying to explain why he had traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, an act of solidarity that many have identified as a pivotal moment in reviving the former president’s political viability.

McCarthy, the California congressman who was then the House Republican leader, had condemned Trump for fueling the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol and even suggested that he resign, only to turn around and effectively absolve the former president by embracing him again. In her new book, Cheney, perhaps the country’s most vocal anti-Trump Republican, reports that McCarthy justified the Jan. 28 visit as an act of compassion for a beaten ally.

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Cheney wrote that she was so shocked when she first saw the photograph of McCarthy and Trump standing side by side with grins on their faces that she thought it was a fake. “Not even Kevin McCarthy could be this craven, I thought,” she wrote. “I was wrong.”

Cheney’s book, “Oath and Honor,” a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times before its scheduled publication Tuesday, offers a scathing assessment of not only McCarthy but an array of Republicans who in her view subordinated their integrity to curry favor with Trump. Her account of his subjugation of the party presents a tapestry of hypocrisy, with inside-the-room scenes of Republicans privately scorning “the Orange Jesus,” as one wryly called him, while publicly doing his bidding.

The much-anticipated memoir arrives on bookshelves even as Trump is in a commanding position to win next year’s Republican presidential nomination. Cheney, who represented Wyoming in Congress and led the House Republican Conference, making her the third-ranking member of her party, has assailed him as a budding autocrat in more visceral terms than most of his challengers for the nomination.

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The daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and a conservative star in her own right who was once on track to become House speaker, Cheney ultimately paid a price for her opposition to Trump and her service as vice chair of the House committee that investigated his role in instigating the Jan. 6 attack. She lost her leadership position and eventually her seat in a Republican primary last year. But she has vowed to do whatever she can to keep Trump from returning to the Oval Office.

Indeed, she subtitled her book “A Memoir and a Warning” to make the point that Trump represents a clear and present danger to America if he is on the ballot next November. “We will be voting on whether to preserve our republic,” she wrote. “As a nation, we can endure damaging policies for a four-year term. But we cannot survive a president willing to terminate our Constitution.”

A reelected Trump, she said, would face few checks on his power. “Step by step, Donald Trump would tear down the other structures that restrain an American president,” she wrote. “The assumption that our institutions will protect themselves,” she added, “is purely wishful thinking by people who prefer to look the other way.”

Asked for comment on Wednesday, Trump, who has openly called for “termination” of the Constitution to immediately remove President Biden from office and reinstall himself without waiting for another election, did not directly address any of Cheney’s specific assertions but simply dismissed her as a disgruntled critic.

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“Liz Cheney is a loser who is now lying in order to sell a book that either belongs in the discount bargain bin in the fiction section of the bookstore or should be repurposed as toilet paper,” Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump, said by email. “These are nothing more than completely fabricated stories because President Trump is the clear front-runner to be the Republican nominee and the strongest candidate to beat Crooked Joe Biden.”

Likewise, McCarthy did not deny anything in the book, copies of which have also been obtained by CNN and The Guardian. His office released a statement saying, “For Cheney, first it was Trump Derangement Syndrome, and now apparently it’s also McCarthy Derangement Syndrome.”

In Cheney’s telling, Trump knew that he lost the 2020 election even as he told the public that he had not — and she cited no less than McCarthy as a witness. Just two days after the November election, she said, McCarthy told her he had spoken to Trump. “He knows it’s over,” she quoted him saying. “He needs to go through all the stages of grief.”

That could in theory make McCarthy an important witness in the federal or state criminal cases against Trump, refuting any defense by the former president’s lawyers that he was acting on good-faith belief that fraud had stolen the election from him.

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Also depicted as a Trump acolyte is Representative Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, who in recent weeks vaulted from the backbench to the speakership after McCarthy’s support for Trump failed to save him from a right-wing rebellion.

Johnson took the lead in trying to corral support for Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. He sent an email to all House Republicans telling them that he had spoken with the president, who expected them to sign onto a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court. “He said he will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review,” Johnson wrote.

Cheney took that as a veiled threat and said she was surprised about Johnson, whom she had thought of as a friend. “He appeared especially susceptible to flattery from Trump and aspired to being anywhere in Trump’s orbit,” she wrote. “When I confronted him with the flaws in his legal argument, Johnson would often concede, or say something to the effect of, ‘We just need to do this one last thing for Trump.’”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.