Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaks at a press conference at the Burlington International Airport Tuesday.
Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) isn't ready to use the I-word.
At least two of his Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House have called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump over his ties to Russia, but Welch declined to do the same Tuesday at a South Burlington press conference. In a written statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also fended off calls for impeachment, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not immediately respond to a request for his position.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russia's foreign minister and U.S. ambassador last week during a meeting in the Oval Office. The day before that meeting, the president fired FBI director James Comey, a decision he later said was influenced in part by the bureau's investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia. That prompted Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) to accuse Trump of obstructing justice and join Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in calling for the president's impeachment.
Welch took a more cautious stance Tuesday morning during an unrelated press conference at Burlington International Airport. Vermont's sole U.S. House member called Trump's actions "pretty stupid." But when asked whether the president had committed an impeachable offense, Welch said, "He's got the legal authority. I think it's a judgment issue."
The congressman stopped short of suggesting that Trump had violated his oath of office or obstructed justice, both of which would constitute grounds for impeachment.
"Well, we gotta get the facts," he said. "I think if we have a special investigator or an independent commission [examine Trump's Russia ties] and it's not embroiled in the political process, we have a much better chance to find out, in fact, what happened."
Welch did say that Congress should seek recordings of Trump's meeting with the Russian officials, if such tapes exist. The president suggested on social media last week that he may secretly record White House conversations, though the administration has neither confirmed nor denied that's the case. Even if Trump improperly shared the intelligence, Welch said, "whether that's an impeachable offense, in this environment, I think is premature to say."
The congressman also suggested that the political climate is not conducive to pursuing charges against the president. Only the Republican-controlled U.S. House can initiate impeachment proceedings. A two-thirds majority of the Senate would then have to convict the president in order to remove him from office.
"The burden on impeachment is huge," Welch said Tuesday. "So let's get the facts is what I'm saying."
Like Welch, Leahy declined Tuesday to endorse impeachment.
In an emailed statement to Seven Days, the senior Democratic senator said, "What we know is beyond alarming. But there is still much we do not know. Before I judge whether his reckless and damaging behavior merits impeachment, I want to see an independent investigation into his actions." He later added, "What these investigations find would be useful and perhaps essential to the House if articles of impeachment are drawn."
The senator, who was first elected in 1974, concluded with this cheery observation: "We are closer to a constitutional crisis than any moment that I can remember."
Corrected at 3:41 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of votes required for impeachment and conviction.