Corrected 4:48 p.m. | Zoe Lofgren has served with a lot of members during her decadeslong service in Congress. Lately, she has been thinking about the late Rep. Charles Wiggins.
Wiggins, a California Republican, was among President Richard Nixon’s staunchest defenders on the Judiciary Committee when the House panel was grappling with impeaching Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal.
The scandal started when a group of men were arrested as they were trying to bug the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex — a break-in connected to a large political spying campaign to help get Nixon reelected in 1972.
On Aug. 5, 1974, Nixon admitted he helped conceal the facts of the Watergate burglary. At that point, the Judiciary Committee had already adopted three articles of impeachment against the president: obstruction of justice, abuse of power and refusal to cooperate with the Judiciary panel investigation.
After Nixon fessed up, Wiggins abruptly changed his stance and decided Nixon should be impeached on, at least, the obstruction of justice charge.
“Because of that, Mr. Wiggins said, he had reached the ‘painful conclusion’ that it was in the national interest for Nixon to resign,” The New York Times reported. Nixon resigned days later, on Aug. 9, 1974, before the House voted on the three articles of impeachment.
That moment sticks with 14-term incumbent Lofgren, D-Calif., who in 1974 was a law student who assisted on the impeachment effort as a staffer for Judiciary Committee member Don Edwards of California.
“Chuck Wiggins believed the president,” Lofgren recalls. “I mean, it wasn’t like he was trying to cover up for the president. He believed him.”
“And when, at the very end, President Nixon basically admitted everything, Wiggins looked like he’d been slapped in the face. And he had been, because I think he’s an honorable guy, and he and other Republicans were ashamed of the behavior and told Nixon that he had to resign,” Lofgren added. Wiggins, who died in 2000, left Congress after the 1978 elections and went on to a long career as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
She’s not seeing a lot of Republicans like Wiggins in the year since a pro-Donald Trump mob attacked the Capitol and tried to subvert the democratic process.
Although the impeachment question began with a partisan divide on the committee, Lofgren said that changed as the facts emerged. Since being elected to the House in 1994, she has seen three impeachments. President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, and Trump was impeached twice, in 2019 and 2021. Lofgren served as a manager for Trump’s first impeachment trial in early 2020.
Now, months into her work on the Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation into the deadly Capitol attack, Lofgren is concerned that, even for something as grave as a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and Trump’s role in that effort, there are not many figures in the Republican Party willing to do what Wiggins and other Republicans did decades ago.
“Now you compare that with what we have today — arguably, this plot that we’re uncovering was much worse than what Nixon ever thought of doing. It basically was an effort to overturn the government of the United States,” Lofgren said. “And I am not seeing — as the facts so far, with the exception of a handful of people — Republican officeholders saying, ‘You know, we actually value the democratic republic more than we value the favor of Donald Trump.’ That’s a very scary situation.”
Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are the only two GOP members on the select panel and the only two who voted to create the committee. They are both outcasts of the House Republican Conference for refuting Trump’s lies that the election was stolen and for seeking to hold him accountable for his role in inciting the riot. Cheney was purged from the No. 3 position in party leadership and faces a primary challenge from pro-Trump candidates. Kinzinger has opted to retire.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said days after the insurrection that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” but he has since backtracked despite initially floating a possible censure of Trump. McCarthy opposed both a 9/11-style independent commission to investigate the riot and the select committee that was created afterward.
Some GOP lawmakers are included in the scope of the select panel’s investigation, including Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry and House Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom have been asked to provide information to the select committee about their knowledge of efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Georgia was a crucial swing state in the election, and former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made a trip to Georgia to watch a county audit after Trump falsely claimed fraud in the process. The Washington Post reported that Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find votes to overturn his loss. Raffensperger refused, affirming that the election was on the level. That has spurred Trump’s wrath and a primary challenge to Raffensperger.
Lofgren said U.S. elections have integrity and took place even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. She is concerned, however, about the state of the democratic process.
“The concern is looking forward,” she said. “It’s pretty clear that there was a concerted effort to basically throw out the votes that were based on the votes of the American people and replace it with the guy they wanted to win and who’d lost. Now that’s not the way America has ever worked, and if that’s their plan for the future, we’re not going to have a democracy.”
A deadly aftermath
The deadly insurrection upended the Capitol Police department. Approximately 80 of its officers were injured in the riot, and two died in the aftermath. Top leaders have left, roughly 130 officers have departed and morale has been low.
In prepared remarks, Chief J. Thomas Manger will tell the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday that the department has made significant strides in several areas. This includes an effort to bolster the Civil Disturbance Unit through increased staffing and training, ordering items such as pepper ball systems and new shields that were scarce during the insurrection and increasing the effectiveness of the intelligence-sharing process.
Manger said the department has addressed over 90 of the more than 100 post-riot recommendations from Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton, a large jump from the figure Bolton gave the panel in early December, when he said 30 have been implemented.
The department, according to Bolton’s December remarks, “still lacks the overall training infrastructure to meet the needs of the Department, the level of intelligence gathering and expertise needed, and an overall cultural change needed to move the department into a protective agency as opposed to a traditional police department.”
Lofgren, who has a role overseeing the department as chairperson of the House Administration Committee, said there have been improvements over the past year, including added training, more equipment and staffing changes.
She pointed to legislation signed by President Joe Biden that allows the chief of the Capitol Police to request National Guard or federal law enforcement assistance in emergencies without going through the Capitol Police Board. The Capitol Police Board approval process hampered the National Guard’s response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Lofgren commended the addition of Manger, who has been a steady, engaging leader since he came out of retirement last summer. The department showed it was prepared for a Sept. 18 event that was preceded by a flurry of violent online chatter.
The Capitol Police has approximately 1,800 officers and is authorized to have around 2,000. A Capitol Police spokesperson said the department plans to hire about 280 sworn officers in 2022.
Lofgren says the department has a large applicant pool and is “hopeful that we are going to be able to get up to strength as we should be.”
Overall, the Capitol is “safer than it was, but it’s not safe enough,” Lofgren said.
Just last month, a House staffer brought a loaded Glock 19 9mm handgun through Capitol Police security at the Longworth House Office Building. That employee was unaccounted for for 12 minutes before returning to the area and submitting to screening. That was just hours before Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and congressional leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were present for a tribute to the late Sen. Bob Dole not far away in the Capitol.
Lofgren said she wrote a lengthy, strongly worded letter to Manger, asking how he plans to address the issue. “Obviously, he’s the chief. I’m not. But that was completely unacceptable,” she said.
Reflecting on a year since the insurrection, Lofgren said the relationship between Democrats and Republicans remains fractious. She said she has never been in a more toxic situation but she remain hopeful.
“I think in all my years, I’ve never seen such a toxic environment between these two parties in the House, and I’m hopeful that by working together we can, in the January 6th committee, we can bring out facts that everyone has to recognize are true that will allow us to cope with reality in a respectful way. And I think the country needs that and deserves that. And I’m committed to doing my part to bring that about,” Lofgren said.
This report was corrected to reflect the timing of the first House impeachment of President Donald Trump.