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Susan Collins becomes second Senate Republican to question impartiality of impeachment trial

Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine.Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, criticized some of her Senate colleagues, including the majority leader, for appearing to “prejudge the evidence” in impeachment proceedings against President Trump, becoming the second Republican senator to question Senator Mitch McConnell’s pledge to coordinate with the White House.

Impeachment rules require a simple majority vote, meaning McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, can afford to lose only four members of his conference if he is to set the parameters of a trial. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska, another moderate with an independent streak, said last week that she was “disturbed” by McConnell’s promise to work with the White House counsel to set the terms of the trial.

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Both Murkowski and Collins also offered noncommittal positions on calling witnesses to an impeachment trial, which Democrats have pushed and McConnell has resisted. And both women questioned why the House did not go to court when administration officials ignored subpoenas. (Democrats, who control the House, have asserted that going to court to compel testimony from administration officials would take too long when the 2020 election is already in danger.)

“It is inappropriate, in my judgment, for senators on either side of the aisle to prejudge the evidence before they have heard what is presented to us, because each of us will take an oath, an oath that I take very seriously to render impartial justice,” Collins said in an interview with Maine Public Radio that was broadcast Monday. “That’s what it says, impartial justice.”

She specifically referenced remarks from McConnell, that he would take his cues from the White House, and from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, who openly supported the impeachment of the president.

“There are senators on both sides of the aisle, who, to me, are not giving the appearance of and the reality of judging this in an impartial way,” she said, a sentiment she echoed in a separate interview with News Center Maine, a local television station.

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With Collins and Murkowski doubting their leaders’ approach, scrutiny will fall on independent-minded Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and retiring Republicans such as Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who could force Republican and Democratic leaders to work out the terms of a trial the way they did in 1999 with the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Collins, who was in the Senate during that trial, has repeatedly refused to weigh in on the allegations that Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress, citing the need to remain impartial. She told both media outlets that she had compiled a thick notebook with documents from the last trial and had pressed Senate leaders to adhere to the framework set in 1999.

Drawing on her experience from the Clinton trial, Collins also said she was “open” to hearing from witnesses during proceedings against Trump. Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, have pressured McConnell to allow them to call members of the Trump administration to testify in a trial.

Senator Doug Jones, Democrat from Alabama, one of his caucus’s most vulnerable members, said in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post that “for Americans to have confidence in the impeachment process, the Senate must conduct a full, fair and complete trial with all relevant evidence regarding the president’s conduct.”

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But while Schumer said in his opening proposal to McConnell that the issue of witnesses and documents should be determined before the trial begins, Collins said that she would prefer to wait to decide who specifically should be called.

“I think it’s premature to decide who should be called until we see the evidence that is presented and get the answers to the questions that we senators can submit through the chief justice to both sides,” she told the radio station.