Liz Cheney formerly was vice chair of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack — which Elise Stefanik has described as ”illegitimate and unconstitutional.” | Francis Chung/POLITICO

A bitter clash over the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack erupted between two prominent Republicans on Saturday, as Liz Cheney accused Rep. Elise Stefanik of covering up her past criticism of the Jan. 6 attack and branded Stefanik a “total crackpot.”

Stefanik, one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress, lashed back at Cheney and accused her of having a “mental breakdown.” Taunting the former Wyoming lawmaker, Stefanik jeered in a statement that Cheney “will never hold any elected office again.”

The caustic personal spat exposed how raw and angry the wounds of Jan. 6 remain within the Republican Party. Few lawmakers embody the political consequences of that day more than Cheney, who lost her role in House leadership after voting to impeach Trump, and Stefanik, who replaced Cheney in that role and gained ever greater prominence as a Trump defender.

The two were both previously seen as next-generation leaders of the Republican establishment, before diverging in their views of Trump. Cheney has recently vowed to do anything she can to stop Trump’s return to the White House, while Stefanik is widely seen as campaigning to become Trump’s running mate.

On Tuesday, Cheney
tweeted at Stefanik
and linked to her 2021 press release on the Jan. 6 attack, saying: “This is what ⁦⁦@EliseStefanik said, in a rare moment of honesty, about the January 6 attack on our Capitol. One day she will have to explain how and why she morphed into a total crackpot. History, and our children, deserve to know.”

In Stefanik’s 2021 press release, she condemned the “violence and destruction” of Jan. 6 and called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted.

On Saturday,
Cheney posted again
to point out that the statement in question was no longer available on Stefanik’s
official House website
.

As of Saturday morning, the website showed no press releases prior to 2023. Cheney’s team insists the press releases were there at the beginning of this week. A spokesperson for Stefanik noted that her previous statements could still be found on several social media channels.

The sharp exchange Saturday previewed in part what a general election debate over Jan. 6 might look like, if Stefanik ends up on the Republican ticket and Cheney campaigns against it.

Republican pollster Christine Matthews described the unfolding fight as “the story of two women: one who put principles above ambition and the other who put ambition above principles.”

“It is also the story of the evolution of the Republican Party, which once used issues as a litmus test for who was inside and who was outside the norm. Now it uses pitch — whoever matches their pitch to Trump most closely is the person who belongs inside the party,” Matthews continued, pointing to Stefanik’s shift to the party’s hard right flank over time, both in style and substance.

Cheney formerly was vice chair of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack — which Stefanik
has described
as ”illegitimate and unconstitutional.” Her work on the committee drew and vote for his impeachment drew Trump’s ire and she lost in the primary for her Wyoming House seat in 2022.

Stefanik has frequently downplayed the significance of the attack on the Capitol and cast doubt on the legitimacy of legal action against the attack’s participants.

On Jan. 7 of this year, Stefanik referred to those imprisoned for offenses related to Jan. 6 as “hostages” in an appearance on “Meet The Press.”

“I have concerns about the treatment of the January 6 hostages,“ she added.

Cheney called her out for it later that morning on “Face the Nation.”

“You don’t have to take my word for the fact that you can’t count on these elected Republicans to defend the Constitution. … They demonstrate it themselves,” she said.

Since that exchange, Stefanik has urged GOP candidates to drop out of the race following Trump’s victory in Iowa and joined the former president on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, further burnishing her credentials as a potential vice president pick.

She told reporters in New Hampshire she’d be “honored” to serve in the Trump administration, adding that Trump is going to “restore the rule of law” and “restore respect for the Constitution in this nation.”

Stefanik’s views on Jan. 6 are widely shared by the Republican base — which
has become more accepting
of the attack on the Capitol over time — but the riot and its aftermath remains a thorny issue for the Trump campaign in the general election, even as they look to wrap up the Republican primary.

David Cohen contributed to this report.

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