Ex-Ford foundation member calls Liz Cheney 'only person on this planet' worthy of top award after snub he says was over Trump

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly on Thursday defended former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., after he resigned from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation over its refusal to consider her for its Medal for Distinguished Public Service — a snub he claims was driven by the possibility of former President Donald Trump winning this year’s presidential election.

In his letter of resignation from the foundation board as a trustee, Kennerly argued that Cheney, a vocal opponent of Trump’s, was rejected multiple times for the top award out of fear of retribution from Trump if he wins re-election.

“If the foundation that bears the name of Gerald R. Ford won’t stand up to this real threat to our democracy, who will?” Kennerly wrote in his letter, referring to a possible second presidential term for Trump.

During a Thursday interview on “Morning Joe,” Kennerly said one of the few people standing up to Trump is Cheney, arguing that she’s “the only person on this planet” who should have won the foundation’s top award.

“They’re putting out statements from the board about how they had to not give her the award because it would threaten their tax status,” he said. “And that’s just, you know, going down the legal rabbit hole.”

Kennerly, who was Ford’s White House photographer, said he has concerns about the hold that Trump has on the Republican Party and called Cheney a “bright shining light” who has faced death threats for refusing to go along with the former president’s baseless claims of a stolen election.

“The foundation, which I’ve been on for a couple decades, is not stepping up with her. They’re giving all these excuses now,” he said.

Kennerly noted that even though Cheney has not announced a presidential campaign, the foundation asserted it could not give the top award to Cheney because it would threaten the group’s tax status, citing her past remarks raising the possibility of a presidential bid. He also mentioned that her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who worked as Ford’s chief of staff, received the award in 2004 when he was a candidate for vice president.“So maybe he should give that award back to them for fear that they might lose their status,” Kennerly said.

Kennerly said that the decision to snub Cheney for the top award was made by the executive committee of the foundation’s board, not the general board that he was a member of. He said he had “strongly suggested” Cheney for the award, but the committee was not receptive because she had raised the possibility of a presidential bid.

“They’re just being petty and fearful like so many people in the country,” he said. “And you gotta listen to Liz [Cheney]. She’s out there getting big crowds all around the country of Democrats and Republicans to hear her message, which is to keep Donald Trump away from the Oval Office. That’s the only award she wants, is to see him put out to pasture.”

In a statement, the foundation’s executive director, Gleaves Whitney, said the decision not to give the award to Cheney “is not a reflection on her but on the law governing nonprofits.”

The group’s executive committee, “guided by its legal counsel, concluded that it was not prudent to award the 2024 Ford medal to Liz Cheney,” the statement continued. “At the time the award was being discussed, it was publicly reported that Liz was under active consideration for a presidential run. Exercising its fiduciary responsibility, the executive committee concluded that giving the Ford medal to Liz in the 2024 election cycle might be construed as a political statement and thus expose the Foundation to the legal risk of losing its nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service.”

The statement also noted that Cheney sits on the foundation’s board of trustees and added that she “meets all the criteria the Ford Presidential Foundation medal signifies — courage, integrity, and passion to serve the American people.​”

“The Foundation’s action this year in no way precludes her from serious consideration to receive the medal in a future year,” it said.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement that Cheney “and her cronies are more concerned about her own personal awards than they are about the direction of this country.”

Cheney faced backlash within the Republican Party after she emerged as a vocal critic of Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack amid the former president’s refusal to concede his loss to Joe Biden. She served as vice chair of the House Jan. 6 committee and was among the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021. She was ousted from her No. 3 post in House GOP leadership and lost her re-election bid in 2022 to Trump-endorsed primary challenger Harriet Hageman.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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