Q&A: Rep. Ted Lieu ’91 on the Capitol riot, impeachment

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Last Wednesday, in the waning days of his presidency, President Donald Trump was once again impeached by the House of Representatives.

One congressman who has had — and will continue to have — an outsized role in this second impeachment is Stanford alumnus Rep. Ted Lieu ’91 (D-Calif.), one of three co-authors of the resolution that passed the House last week.

This impeachment push stems from a pro-Trump mob’s storming of the Capitol two weeks ago. The House charged Trump with inciting that riot, which occurred as Congress was in the process of certifying electoral college votes.

Soon, the trial will move to the Senate, where Lieu, along with fellow alum Rep. Joaquin Castro ’96 (D-Texas), will be one of nine impeachment managers and present the case for conviction.

Even with President-elect Joe Biden taking office on Wednesday, the impeachment trial against Trump will continue, with Democrats arguing that such a move is necessary for accountability. If Trump is convicted, which requires 67 votes, the Senate can then subsequently vote to also bar him from holding “any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

Below is The Daily’s conversation with Lieu on the Capitol riot and impeachment.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Given the events of the past two weeks, how do you see the state of American democracy right now?

Ted Lieu (TL): We are in a very challenging time where the lies of Donald Trump have caused a number of his supporters to believe the election was stolen. That big lie is completely false; thousands of dead people did not vote, voting machines did not magically switch votes and it’s completely untrue that more people voted than there were registered voters. But because Trump for over two months kept making these false statements, his supporters are still enraged, because they believe that Trump won in a landslide and that he’s the legitimate president. So we need to deradicalize a lot of these people and combat their disinformation.

TSD: Why was impeachment the necessary action right now?

TL: A violent mob attacked our nation’s Capitol, resulting in multiple deaths. They were trying to hang Vice President Pence. They were trying to assassinate Speaker Pelosi. They were hunting for lawmakers. And the person who incited that mob was Donald Trump. We cannot simply issue strongly worded press releases as a response. Impeachment was essentially the only option left available to Congress.

TSD: What would you say to those who say that impeachment is too divisive?

TL: After a crime is committed, you don’t just go straight to healing. You have to have justice and accountability first, and we cannot unify or move forward as a nation without justice and accountability. We can’t just pretend Jan. 6 didn’t happen.

TSD: Can you take us through your experience of the Capitol siege as Congress was certifying the election?

TL: Because of the pandemic, they actually didn’t want most members of Congress on the House floor. So I was watching from my office on the fourth floor of the Cannon House Office Building, and I remember at around 1:15, I hear loud banging on the doors in my hallway, and it gets increasingly louder. And eventually there’s banging on our door, and my chief of staff opens it. And the Capitol Police officer tells us, “You need to evacuate immediately.” So we race down five flights of stairs to the basement, and we take the tunnels over to the Longworth House Office Building, which they said was safe. And we didn’t know why we’re being evacuated, so once we got to Longworth, we started to look at our phones, and it became clear that a mob was descending on the Capitol. And by the way, Capitol Police also told me to remove the pin I was wearing on my suit that designated me as a member of Congress. Eventually, we made our way to the Rayburn House Office Building through the underground tunnels to the office of my colleague Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) who graciously let us in and then locked the door.

TSD: You started drafting the article of impeachment that very day while on lockdown. How did that process happen?

TL: We watched in horror on TV as the events unfolded, and it became very clear to us we were in the middle of an attempted coup incited by Donald Trump. We saw the violent mob attack the nation’s Capitol, and we saw video clips of what Donald Trump said in his speech immediately preceding this mob attack where he told them to go “down Pennsylvania Avenue.” He told him to “stop the steal.” He told them to “fight like hell.” It became clear to us we needed to remove Donald Trump because he was a clear and present danger to the Republic. So Congressman Cicilline and I started to draft the article of impeachment while we were on lockdown. We also worked remotely with Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is a constitutional law professor. And we also worked remotely with House Judiciary Committee staff, as well as Congressman Cicilline’s staff and my staff.

TSD: How will the trial now proceed? What sort of arguments will you present?

TL: So, we in the House passed the article of impeachment on a bipartisan basis. It was the largest bipartisan vote in history for an impeachment, and we’re calling on the Senate to hold a trial as soon as possible. In terms of strategy, I’m a former prosecutor, so we never disclose our strategy publicly, but our goal is to present the truth and secure a conviction.

TSD: One prominent Republican that furthered the myth of widespread election fraud is Senator Josh Hawley ’02 (R-Mo.), who is a fellow Stanford alumnus. Do you think he should resign, as some have called for him to do?

TL: It is not my practice to speak badly of Stanford alumni. So I’m not going to do that.

TSD: In your 2014 interview with us, you said, “One of my best memories was being a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily,” and that “for a while in college, what I really wanted to do was be an opinions columnist.” Last Sunday, you wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times arguing for impeachment. Did you ever imagine you’d be writing something like that?

TL: Not at all. I previously served on active duty in the United States military, because I believe America is an exceptional country. I never thought that there would be an attempted coup that was incited by our very own commander in chief.

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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Evan Peng is the managing editor of the magazine as well as a news writer and photographer. He is a junior from San Diego, California studying Linguistics. Contact him on Instagram @evan.png or by email at epeng 'at' stanforddaily.com.