This unique experience has made her something of the Democrats’ elder stateswoman of the Trump impeachment inquiry; she’s made appearances on cable news and has taken to handing out copies of the House’s 1974 report that laid out the case for impeachment against Richard M. Nixon (R) to her House colleagues to remind them of the high standard they must meet to impeach a president.
‘An honor and also an obligation’
Lofgren was a law student when she returned to work in the district office of then-Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), who sat on the House Judiciary Committee. She was sent to Washington to work on a bankruptcy bill but got swept into her first impeachment maelstrom.
In October 1973, the House of Representatives launched the impeachment process against President Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. Suddenly, Lofgren had a very different assignment.
“Everybody got sucked into the tornado that was the impeachment inquiry,” Lofgren recalled to The Washington Post. She was asked to write an article of impeachment focused on the U.S. bombing of Cambodia from 1969-1970, but it was ultimately not adopted by the House.
“I was a law student, so I wasn’t running the show, but I did work on it,” she told The Post. “You had a sense of how historic it was, how serious it was. But to be present was both an honor and also an obligation, and to be able to play a small part in something, it felt profound.”
‘It wasn’t about destroying the functioning of the U.S. government’
A quarter-century later, Lofgren found herself in the midst of yet another impeachment inquiry, this time as a sitting member of Congress.
The year was 1998, and President Bill Clinton faced charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors” over a sexual harassment lawsuit from Arkansas government staffer Paula Jones, as well as allegations that he had lied about an affair with White House aide Monica Lewinsky.
After taking over her old boss’s Northern California congressional seat, Lofgren found herself on the Judiciary Committee, which was tasked with deliberating over a report compiled by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee ultimately sent articles of impeachment to the full Republican-controlled House, where they passed, making Clinton only the second president in history to be impeached.
Lofgren, however, had voted against their passage, believing Clinton’s offenses did not rise to the levels of high crimes and misdemeanors.
“The Republicans will vote to impeach the president whom they could not defeat at the polls for reasons that do not add up to treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” she said in a 1998 speech on the House floor.
Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Lofgren drew a sharp distinction between Clinton’s and Nixon’s impeachment inquiries.
“High crimes and misdemeanors is about the government,” she said. “It’s about whether the activity of the president really threatens the Constitution or the democracy. That’s a very high standard, but it had nothing to do with President Clinton lying about sex.”
“It wasn’t about destroying the functioning of the U.S. government,” she told The Post.
Parallels to the past
Now, as the House prepares to enter what will likely be a far more combative phase of the impeachment inquiry, Lofgren has remained a powerful voice for the Democrats, many of whom believe the president likely committed impeachable offenses. And she has drawn on her personal history to make their case.
“For Nixon, it was closer to the issue that we’re dealing with here,” she told The Post of Trump’s impeachment inquiry. “The abuse of presidential power.”
She has even maintained that the allegations against Trump are “more serious” than what Nixon committed during Watergate, as she told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. The comment wasn’t out of line with what Democrats have been saying as they build their case for impeachment of the president, an effort vehemently opposed by a majority of House Republicans. But Lofgren’s voice has the weight of history behind it, making her a powerful asset for Democrats.
“In the end, all of us have to look at what’s the evidence,” she told The Post. “And what is the gravity of the evidence, and what’s our obligation. That’s what we have to do.”