Breaking with the longstanding norm of intraparty candidate neutrality, a Wyoming Republican Party official asked members of Congress for help vetting potential challengers to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in next year’s Republican primary.
According to emails obtained by WyoFile, Wyoming Republican Party Revenue Committee Chairman Jeff Wallack contacted staffers for Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. on June 15 “seeking veterans in Congress to vet our retired military candidates Denton Knapp and Bryan Miller.”
Crenshaw, a Cheney ally and former Navy Seal, declined the request.
Wallack made a similar request to Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Florida, a former Green Beret, as well as “several other” veterans in conservative politics, Wallack said. It is unclear if any of those individuals took him up on the request.
Neither Waltz or Crenshaw’s offices responded to a request for comment.
The email exchanges underscore the delicate balancing act party officials are performing. The Wyoming Republican Party censured Cheney following her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in Washington. Party officials have since openly expressed dissatisfaction with Cheney — even mocking her at party functions. Yet the Wyoming GOP has traditionally maintained a neutral stance on all candidates until a primary winner is announced. The party has continued that tradition in its official capacity.
Wallack’s emails, however, appear to contradict that approach. Though Wallack wrote in the emails he was working on behalf of himself and various other “leaders” in Wyoming seeking to replace Cheney, he identified himself by using his official title within the Wyoming GOP, blurring the line of neutrality.
Wallack now says his outreach was a “mistake.”
Party chairman Frank Eathorne has been made aware of the emails, Wallack said, and declined to levy discipline.
“It was just a personal inquiry, it was all personal, not on behalf of anybody,” Wallack said. “I just thought I’d like to get some help vetting the candidates. One of the congressmen I contacted was obviously a Cheney supporter, and that was my mistake. I should have looked first before I asked.”
Optics aside, Wallack’s inquiries were perfectly legal. Several current and former members of the Wyoming GOP’s state central committee said there is no language in the Wyoming Republican Party’s 2020 bylaws preventing members other than the party chairman from participating in advocacy work for or against candidates, and no law bars members of state parties from actively recruiting opponents against their own candidates.
The Federal Elections Commission has no rules or regulations addressing potential conflicts of interest by party volunteers in vetting candidates, an official with the commission wrote in an email. Wyoming state law does not prevent direct advocacy for primary candidates by members of the state party.
“Our statutes don’t specifically address this issue, simply because as long as someone meets the constitutional and, now, the residency requirements to run for U.S. House and pays the filing fee, anyone can run for the office,” Monique Meese, communications director for the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, wrote in an email. “There’s no ‘vetting’ process for candidates prescribed in statute other than that. Some states do place the responsibility of validating candidate requirements with their parties, we obviously do not.”
Wallack believes he and other activists in the party have the right to attempt to identify the best candidate for the job, he said. It’s a right he says he will continue to exercise.
Just with more discretion.
“I should not have mentioned I was a volunteer with [the Wyoming Republican Party], so I learned my lesson,” Wallack said.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.