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Rep. Zoe Lofgren of January 6 Committee on Donald Trump’s Indictment

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of January 6 Committee on Donald Trump’s Indictment

Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Had it not been for the work of Lofgren and the committee, would we ever have seen this day come?

The twice-impeached and now third-time indicted Donald Trump unquestionably faces his most serious charges with Tuesday’s federal indictment about his role in trying to overturn a presidential election, the will of the people, and the bedrock of democracy.

The indictment, handed down by a grand jury, charges Trump with four criminal counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. The charges are the most grave ones ever against a U.S. official, spurred, of course, by Trump's intolerable behavior.

The road ahead is unknown and frightening, given that we have never faced such profound stress on our democracy at the hands of someone who will stop at nothing to get his way. Will Trump do anything and everything he can to try to evade these charges, American democracy be damned? Will the other charges and trials that Trump faces in the months and years ahead have an adverse effect on the. 2024 presidential campaign? Will the severity of these charges and Trump’s defense be a test of the strength of our democracy? What is the danger in being complacent about the charges Trump faces?

For answers to these questions and others, I reached out to U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who was a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Lofgren also served as a House manager in the 2020 impeachment trial of Trump. She is the first woman to present a case against a president and the only member of Congress to have participated in all four modern impeachment proceedings.

Lofgren is the former chair and now ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and serves on the House Judiciary Committee. Finally, she’s a strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, with a string of perfect scores from the Human Rights Campaign.

During the January 6 hearings, she had said, “This big lie — President Trump’s effort to convince Americans that he had won the 2020 election — began before the election results even came in. It was intentional. It was premeditated. It was not based on election results or any evidence of actual fraud affecting the results or any actual problems with voting machines. It was a plan concocted in advance, to convince his supporters that he won. And the people who seemingly knew about that plan in advance would ultimately play a significant role in the events of January 6.”

In our recent interview, I asked if Lofgren thinks that with all of these indictments swirling around Trump, the American public might become complacent. “These are very serious charges that are related to a coup, and I firmly agree with what Judge [David] Carter, who presided over the [John] Eastman trial, wrote when he said that the former president and Eastman launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, and that an action was unprecedented in American history," she said. "So from that perspective, these charges couldn’t be more serious.”

Lofgren said the ex-president’s extraordinary behavior, which we’d all consider outrageous, does have a way to deaden people’s expectations. That said, Lofgren affirmed, “This is not a public relations exercise. This is an exercise in extending the rule of law.”

Did Lofgren think that the string of victories the Department of Justice has had in getting guilty sedition verdicts against the Oath Keepers and other insurrectionists gives the department an advantage in the case against Trump? “It’s hard to know. Clearly, the string of victories of individual rioters and seditionists is a good sign, but it’s hard to determine if that will translate to success against the ex-president.”

Lofgren explained that even though Trump wasn’t directly involved in the action at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, “the evidence shows he intended to go that day. He wasn’t there hitting police officers, but as the evidence shows, he was involved in a conspiracy and a plot that involved the Oath Keepers and other seditious conspirators to do what they did. The January 6 committee had a large amount of evidence that we referred to the DOJ that the ex-president incited violence.”

Regarding the DOJ, did Lofgren think that it was even possible for it to treat Trump just like anyone else, which is something that is repeated often in the media by others? “In one way, it’s not possible, and one of the reasons why is that the ex-president has an extraordinary amount of security that he has for life. So that alone makes him different; however, the key premise is that no one is above that law and [everyone] must be held accountable in the same way that anyone else is holds true. The logistics of the trial might be different and more complicated, but the requirement to uphold the law remains the same.”

Was Lofgren worried about the possibility that the DOJ may be entangled with politics because of the simultaneous presidential campaign and Trump being a candidate? “No, I don’t see them becoming political whatsoever. There’s been such criticism from the politics side that the case was delayed and that it took more than a year for a special prosecutor to be named. However, once Jack Smith was named, it was clear that his appointment was apolitical. All that I heard and all the research I’ve done shows him to be a by-the-book prosecutor who will not be influenced by politics.”.

Given that the DOJ is not able to comment about the charges and the impending trial, how does it counter the megaphone Trump has that he’ll use at rallies, in interviews with conservative media, and on his Truth Social to rail about the charges and the case? “It’s not the job of the Justice Department to counter all what Trump says," Lofgren said. "They must remain silent. Once the matter is filed, it’s assigned a judge, and that judge may limit commentary on the part of the defendant; however, there will be a great reluctance to do that. Every American has free speech rights and the right to comment about the quality of the indictment against them. Obviously, with the ex-president, some things may go too far, so what happens if he oversteps the line remains to be seen.”

If there was no January 6 committee, did Lofgren think these charges would have ever been brought? “If you had asked me six months ago, I would have given you a different answer. However, The Washington Post pointed out recently that if our committee didn’t exist, the only people who would have been charged and prosecuted would have been the foot soldiers. There likely would never have been an investigation about the plotting of the coup that we uncovered.”

Is it fair for Trump’s defense to say to a judge that he has so many indictments against him that they can’t handle them all at once? In other words, would that be something a judge would be sympathetic to in delaying the trial? “It is important to remember that justice delayed is justice denied,” Lofgren noted. “A speedy trial benefits both the defendant and the prosecution. It’s in the nation’s interest to have this adjudicated and decided before the election, and the reason for that is that this is a piece of information the public should have about a candidate prior to the election, whether he is guilty or whether he’s innocent.”

Whether he's found guilty or innocent, or remains in limbo, are there certain things that might be unexpected now that we, as a country, should prepare for regarding the tumultuous environment ahead? “The ex-president has frequently toyed with the idea of inciting violence, and we need to be alert to that possibility," she said. "All one has to do is take a look at his past behavior at rallies and the like, and so that is a big concern.”

Is that what worries Lofgren the most about Trump, his tendency to endorse violence to get what he wants, at all costs? “He may advocate for civil unrest and incite violence at public forums and online efforts. He showed on Jan 6 that he was desperate enough to use violence to achieve his goal to stage a coup. It’s the last thing in his quiver, and he’s not afraid to use it.”

After all is said and done, how did Lofgren think the January 6 committee will be regarded by history in its role in bringing these historic charges against Trump? “I do think there were a lot of things unique about the committee. It’s the only committee in my experience on the Hill, as a staffer back in the 1970s, and then as a member of Congress, that was truly a truly bipartisan effort, unimpeded by party membership. It achieved its goal of finding facts. I think we uncovered evidence and facts that are hard to ignore about the ex-president’s multifaceted role in staging a coup, quoting Judge Carter again.”

Will we, as a nation, be OK? “I hope so,” Lofgren assured. “I do think if you listen when the ex-president says he’s going to do something, we have to take him at his word. The New York Times reported this week that he intends to suspend the Constitution and do it overtly, rearranging the power of the three branches of government in an unlawful way. We need to take him at his word and do our utmost best in making sure he never sets foot in the Oval Office ever again.”

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