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This week, the legal cloud hanging over President Trump grew darker.
According to The Washington Post, special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
The growing scandal around Russian election hacking and the firing of the FBI director are prompting many progressives across the country to say it’s time to begin impeachment proceedings against the president now.
John Bonifaz, a constitutional lawyer who heads Free Speech for People, a small progressive group in Amherst, is part of the vanguard of a grassroots movement that has opposed Trump since his first day in office.
"We've launched ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org, which now has the support of 1.1 million Americans across the country," Bonifaz says.
Bonifaz says Trump is violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution for failing to fully divest from his private business interests before he took the oath of office. Similar concerns prompted nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress to file suit against the Trump administration this week. The White House dismisses the suit as politically motivated and unfounded, but Bonifaz says there are other reasons to impeach Trump.
"We have since expanded our grounds for this call to include obstruction of justice in light of the president's interference with an ongoing criminal investigation with the firing of FBI Director James Comey," Bonifaz says.
Along with the million-plus people who've signed Bonifaz's petition, about a dozen U.S. cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for impeachment, including Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as Amherst, Cambridge, Pelham and Leverett here in Massachusetts.
And after Comey's congressional testimony last week, two national grassroots organizations, Indivisible and MoveOn.org, which oppose Trump, also urged Congress to start impeachment proceedings.
"More people support impeaching Trump than approve of his job performance," says Anna Galland, MoveOn's executive director. According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, she's right — though the poll also found the country deeply divided over this issue, with a slim plurality opposing impeachment.
Still, Galland says it's time to act now.
"There have been sufficient evidence of what are called in the Constitution ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ and we think it's time for all members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — to support moving forward with impeachment proceedings,” Galland says.
But that's not happening. For the most part, Republicans in Congress remain in lockstep behind the president and don't support impeachment. And so far, just two Democrats — U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas — say they do.
"We live in a country where no congressman, no senator and not even the president of the United States is above the law," Green said earlier this week. "And I've concluded that as a result articles of impeachment should be drawn."
"The only place impeachment comes before investigation is in the dictionary."Sen. Ed Markey
That position sparked sharp disagreement at this week's weekly meeting of House Democrats, according to The Hill, which reported that Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano denounced the push for impeachment as a selfish maneuver that could hurt Democrats.
Congressman Seth Moulton of Salem agrees.
"The danger is that it just looks political — that we're not really trying to find out the facts or bring the right people to justice, but are just trying to pursue a political crusade against the president," according to Moulton, who says it is "frightening" that President Trump won't acknowledge what U.S. intelligence agencies have: that Russia interfered with the U.S. election and will try to do it again. Moulton wants a bipartisan commission to get to the bottom of what the Russians did — and whether or not the Trump campaign was involved.
But he says impeachment could actually impede that effort.
"If you look back to the Watergate era, there were some people who suggested impeachment very early on," Moulton says. "And that wasn't actually helpful to the investigation or to ultimately getting Nixon to resign."
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been quiet on the issue of impeachment, while U.S. Sen. Ed Markey says it's too soon to consider it.
"The only place where impeachment comes before investigation is in the dictionary," Markey said outside his office in Boston last week. "But if that investigation establishes obstruction of justice, then of course that matter has to come before the United States Congress as a potential impeachment process."
That possibility grew a bit more likely this week, with news that special counsel Mueller is now probing whether President Trump obstructed justice.
In tweets early Thursday, Trump accused federal investigators of promoting a "phony" story about colluding with the Russians, and once again called it a "witch hunt."
Democrats are responding carefully. The growing scandal could help them retake the House next year, but if they jump aboard the impeachment bandwagon, they could alienate voters in conservative and politically moderate swing districts.
Bonifaz, of Amherst, who organized the online petition to impeach Trump, says too many members of Congress are putting party over country.
"They're engaged in a political calculation of what works best for 2018," according to Bonifaz, who says Democratic and Republican lawmakers should instead "stand up for our Constitution and Democracy."
This is hardly the first time progressives have pushed against mainstream Democrats. They hope that if their numbers grow, the mainstream will follow.
But one longtime Democratic activist says, "If Trump gets impeached, it wouldn't be because the left called for it, but because a nonpartisan law enforcement investigation made a case beyond a reasonable doubt against the president."
This segment aired on June 16, 2017.
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