I find myself in a unique position. I’m the only member of Congress who has participated in the Judiciary Committee for all three modern impeachment proceedings. This is not something I planned on. It is not something I’m happy about. Impeachment is a grave and solemn matter. It’s a stress test for our democracy.
Sadly, President Donald Trump’s actions have damaged our national security, undermined the integrity of the next election and violated his oath of office. His actions have brought impeachment back to the forefront of the national conversation and have made me think long and hard about the other two presidential cases that I worked on.
In 1974, during the Nixon impeachment, I was on the staff of my predecessor Congressman Don Edwards, who was on the House Judiciary Committee. I was a law student at the time; I came back to Washington, D.C., to work on a bankruptcy bill, and I got pulled into the vortex that was impeachment. I was assigned to write one of the Articles of Impeachment (on the Cambodia bombing, as requested by Representative John Conyers, that didn't pass out of committee). I had the profound opportunity to have a bird's-eye view of the proceedings.
I'll never forget the impact on Representative Chuck Wiggins—one of the most vigorous defenders of President Richard Nixon—when he confronted the fact that Nixon had lied to him. And I’ll never forget when my boss at the time explained impeachment to his colleagues by saying how “[our founders] recognized the frightening power that the president has, that we give the president, and the grave danger to the republic should he abuse it.”
Edwards correctly specified that the grave danger must be “to the republic,” since he understood that a presidential offense is only impeachable if it upsets the constitutional order and threatens the republic itself.
Nixon abused presidential powers to improperly influence the election, he covered up his actions using the FBI and the CIA, and, thereafter, he rightfully resigned the presidency. In the case of Trump, not only has he similarly abused his power to improperly put his thumb on the scale of the election, he used a foreign power to do it. George Washington would likely be astonished by that behavior, since he forewarned us “against the insidious wiles of foreign influence.”
In the case of President Bill Clinton in 1998, there was no foreign interference, no election meddling and no attempt to subvert our Constitution. I was a member of the Judiciary Committee at the time of the Clinton proceedings, and it was clear to me that the president’s marital dishonesty would not destroy our constitutional form of government. Lying about sex is not an abuse of presidential power (though, maybe, husband power), and, certainly, Trump may have done the same thing Clinton was accused of when it comes to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. But that has no more to do with the abuse of presidential power than it did in Clinton's case.
Back in the 1990s, I urged my Republican colleagues not to damage the American people's faith in our democracy and undo an election simply because they disapproved of Clinton and his lies about an affair. He abused the trust of his wife; he didn't abuse his presidential power. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen, and that, in part, helped create the atmosphere for the antics, untruths and an emboldened president wielding unchecked power that subverts the Constitution we're seeing today. It’s important to remember: Impeachment is not about punishing the president; it is about protecting the American people from constitutional violations so extreme they threaten the country's future.
The facts in front of us now are clear: They show Trump made official acts—millions in life-saving military aid for an active war zone and a coveted White House meeting showing support against Russia—conditional on political favors for himself in the 2020 election. Trump continues to solicit foreign interference in our election for his personal political gain. He’s not contrite. He hasn’t promised to stop. Instead, he continues his improper abuse of presidential power. We’re left with no choice but to proceed with impeachment, the constitutional remedy for the most serious of offenses that threaten our democracy.
Never before in our country's history has a president simply refused to provide all documents to Congress or to order that no one in the executive branch testify. His obstruction of Congress is unprecedented—and claims of absolute immunity or the assertion of complete privilege go against our Constitution. If allowed to stand, it would fundamentally change the balance of power between our three branches of government. It would prevent Congress from conducting needed oversight of this president or any other in the future.
In the past few weeks, I've received many questions about how this impeachment process compares with the two I experienced before. Answer: Unfortunately, this case is far worse. But there's a different question I've been asking myself: What would my reaction be if these allegations and this set of facts were against the president of my own party? And I can say with certainty that if a Democratic president did what Trump very clearly appears to have done, I would be over at the White House saying, "You should resign."
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) represents California's 19th District in the U.S. Congress and is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee.