CAPITAL REGION — U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, on Monday became the first member of the Capital Region congressional delegation to call for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's conduct regarding Russian election interference in 2016.
Tonko took the position as talk of impeachment increases among congressional Democrats in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's finding that the Russian government sought to influence the presidential election in Trump's favor, and that Trump sought to thwart the two-year investigation.
"After careful review of the evidence and testimony currently available, and in service to my oath, it is my judgment that Congress needs to accept the baton being handed to us by Mr. Mueller and open an impeachment inquiry to more fully assess the Constitutional implications of seemingly criminal actions by the president and his campaign, and to determine whether formal impeachment charges need to be filed," Tonko wrote in a Facebook post.
Previously, Tonko has criticized Attorney General William Barr for what he called "misleading" descriptions of the Mueller report's contents -- summaries critics say Barr shaded in favor of the president.
Tonko, who represents the 20th Congressional District, is among 56 Democrats in the House of Representatives who have now called for an impeachment inquiry, according to a New York Times survey. The paper said 59 Democrats are opposed, and 120 haven't responded to its question.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sought to tamp down talk of impeachment among her colleagues. In the New York delegation, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-Garden City, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Queens, are so far the only other members to call for a formal inquiry. Most others, however, say current congressional investigations that could produce evidence for an inquiry need to continue.
While an impeachment inquiry would investigate whether impeachment may be warranted based on Trump's actions or conduct, it is preliminary to actual impeachment. Impeachment by the House would lead to a trial in the Senate, where the Republican majority has shown no interest in removing Trump from office.
U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, who represents the 19th Congressional District, has been highly critical of Trump policies on health care and other issues, but has yet to state a position on whether there should be an impeachment inquiry.
The region's only Republican member of Congress, 21st Congressional District Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has called for a serious investigation of Russian election interference, but not of Trump's actions. House Republicans are nearly unanimous in avoiding talk of impeachment.
"The report outlined Russia's systematic approach to targeting our elections, not only through Facebook ads and fake Twitter accounts, but through a sophisticated hacking operation targeting committees, candidates and campaigns," Stefanik wrote in an op-ed piece in the Sun Community News. "After months of scrupulous inquiry, it is imperative Congress takes its findings seriously: Russia interfered in our elections with the intent to undermine the Democratic process."
Tonko said his position is based on Mueller's public statement last week, in which Mueller said all Americans should be concerned about Russia's actions, and that the special counsel's office did not conclude Trump obstructed justice in large part because of a Department of Justice policy that sitting presidents cannot face criminal charges.
"The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," Mueller said, in what was generally understood to be a reference to the role of Congress.
"The integrity of our elections and equality before the law have long stood as cornerstones of American free society," Tonko said in his Facebook post. "Upon taking office, I swore an oath to uphold our Constitution and put duty to the United States and the American people before any matters of political convenience."
Tonko said he believes Congress can continue to legislate while investigations of the president take place, though Trump last week walked out of a meeting on infrastructure legislation over what he called "phony investigations."
"While I believe Congress must perform our constitutional duty to hold the president accountable, this effort must not and will not distract us from our other vital work improving healthcare protections for all Americans, confronting the growing climate crisis, taking real steps to safeguard future elections, investing in America’s infrastructure, including making sure all Americans have access to clean, safe drinking water, and much more" Tonko said.
Elizabeth Joy of Glenville, Tonko's only announced Republican opponent for the 2020 election, said consideration of impeachment "only harms the American people."
“I fully stand behind and support President Trump," Joy said a statement on Monday. "Congressman Paul Tonko’s call for an impeachment inquiry, with the intention of moving into full impeachment proceedings, only harms the American people and the constituents that live here in the 20th Congressional District.
Most of the comments appearing on Tonko's Facebook page thanked him or were supportive of his position, though a few criticized him for attacking the president.