Q&A: Rep. Zoe Lofgren ’70 talks impeachment

Jan. 27, 2020, 10:50 p.m.

“We simply want the truth, whatever that truth may be.” Zoe Lofgren ’70, representative for California’s 19th district, kicked off Democrats’ case for President Trump’s impeachment on Tuesday, urging objectivity and bipartisanship in her 33-minute address. Lofgren is one of seven Democratic impeachment managers who act as prosecutors in the ongoing Senate trial. A Palo Alto native, she is serving her 13th congressional term, originally having run for office in 1994 after having worked as an immigration lawyer. As an intern for Rep. Don Edwards ’36, she was part of a committee that drafted articles of impeachment against President Nixon, and she opposed the impeachment of President Clinton as a member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1998. The Daily spoke with Lofgren on Saturday morning, shortly after the trial concluded for the day.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): You are the only lawmaker who has been involved in three out of the country’s four impeachment efforts. Broadly speaking, is there anything that feels remarkably different about this one? Why so?

Zoe Lofgren (ZL): Each impeachment obviously was different and certainly the role I played in each was different. 

In the Nixon impeachment — I actually graduated from Stanford in May of 1970 … I drove out and went door to door and looked for a job, and ended up getting a job for Congressman Don Edwards, who was also a Stanford grad. I worked for him for quite a number of years and then decided I should go to law school. At the end of my first year, I was sent back to the Washington office … It was like a vortex, and everybody got caught up in it. I did get to see what was going on; I ended up writing one of the articles that was not going anywhere. 

But what I saw in that case was a president, President Nixon, who had engaged in serious misconduct that really upended the constitutional order. And also, I saw there a Judiciary Committee that started out with all the Democrats thinking there was a problem, and none of the Republicans thinking there was a problem. And then, as they got into the evidence, a whole bunch of the Republicans said, “Oh my goodness, this is a problem.” And in the end, there was a bipartisan vote to adopt articles of impeachment in the committee, and then of course the president resigned before it even went to the floor. 

I was a member of the Judiciary Committee by the time the Clinton impeachment came up, and it was a very different set of circumstances … They found that he had had an affair with a young woman who had been an intern in the White House, and that he had lied about it — as many husbands do lie about their affairs. 

But because he was president and was in a deposition he lied under oath — that’s a crime. And they tried to spin that lie under oath into a high crime and misdemeanor, which was absurd. High crime and misdemeanor, in the Constitution — if you read through the Federalist Papers, and what the founders were struggling with when they ultimately adopted the impeachment clause, was activity by the president, the use of power that really threatened the constitutional order. 

Now, lying about an affair is not a use of presidential power … It’s not admirable, I’m not suggesting that. But that was really the basis of it: There was no way to get consensus among the members of the committee because there was no high crime and misdemeanor. But the Republicans were really quite adamant that this would go forward.

Take us to now. The process of course is different, the president is different, what he did is different. But it does involve more similarities to Nixon than you would think. He did abuse his power, as Nixon did, and it is also related to using his power to get a benefit in an election, which is interesting. 

The difference here is two-fold: first, that the president’s misconduct also involved inviting a foreign country to be involved in the misconduct. But also in terms of collection of evidence … [Nixon] actually told everybody in his administration to go and testify, that they didn’t need to wait for a subpoena, they should just go, when asked, and tell the truth. Now, you contrast that with what President Trump is doing. He has prohibited every single employee of the executive branch from testifying, and has prohibited all documents from being delivered to Congress. It’s an extraordinary obstruction of Congress, really. 

TSD: In previous interviews you’ve spoken to your concern about an essential repeat of the Clinton impeachment outcome, where senators will just vote along their party lines. Right now it does feel like that’s what most of the country expects to happen, given how highly partisan the proceedings have been up to this point. 

ZL: We’ll see. I don’t want to concede that that’s necessarily the case. I think we’ve put on an overwhelmingly compelling case about what the president did. Not all the senators are listening, but many of them are, and we’ll see what they do. 

TSD: Well, what needs to happen in order for those partisan lines to break down on the issue of impeachment, both within the Senate itself and within the country as a whole? 

ZL: In the end, senators from both parties need to be honest about the evidence they’ve seen, and then vote accordingly. 

TSD: You are also part of a historically diverse team of impeachment managers. Can you speak to the significance of this landmark? 

Lofgren recently made history, along with Representative Val Demings and Sylvia Garcia, as the first women to serve as impeachment managers. The team, selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is also the first to include non-white representatives. 

ZL: You know, I am the second-most senior person on the Judiciary Committee. Plus my prior experience with impeachment, it was not a completely illogical decision for Speaker Pelosi to ask me. You know, there are a lot of people who wanted this job and lobbied for it. I did not. 

Slyvia Garcia is a freshman member, but she’s on the Judiciary Committee. She served as a judge for many years. She also did not ask to be a manager, she was asked by the Speaker, and I thought was a good choice. She knows how to be a judge, she knows how to deal with evidence, she knows how to present information. Really, I think she’s been very good. 

And Val Demings: this is her second term, she is a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee. She’s not a lawyer but she was a police chief. She knows her way around a courtroom, she knows her way around evidence and really I think she’s done a very good job of outlining evidence. So really, it was a logical choice. 

Somebody asked me, “Well, how did it feel to be the first woman to make an argument as an impeachment manager?” And really, I hadn’t realized that was the case until I got the question the next day. I never thought and I certainly never hoped that we would be in an impeachment trial, because that would mean a president had engaged in terrible misconduct that warrants removal, and that’s no cause for joy. 

TSD: What classes or professors that you encountered in your time at Stanford have most defined the ways in which you approach your work? 

ZL: I will say one of my very favorite professors — and someone who I still quote from time to time — was Dr. Ray Wolfinger, who was on the political science faculty. He later betrayed us and went to Berkeley and taught there, but he really was a marvelous teacher and he had actually served for a short time as a lawyer on the Senate staff. He’d worked on the Civil Rights Act in the ’60s. Really smart and insightful and not stuffy at all. A wonderful guy. 

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.

Contact Grace Carroll at gac23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Grace Carroll is the Vol. 261 magazine editor. She was previously a news desk editor. Contact her at gcarroll 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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