LISTEN: Susan Collins Defends Her Vote To Call Witnesses In Trump's Impeachment Trial

Feb 3, 2020

Credit Rebecca Conley

On Saturday, Mal Leary spoke with U.S. Republican Sen. Susan Collins in the wake of her Friday vote, which sought to hear from witnesses at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. He discussed this conversation with Steve Mistler and Irwin Gratz.

They also discuss presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg’s recent visit and Gov. Janet Mills supplemental budget. 

Get caught up:

Gratz: And it took a while on Friday, but we finally have found out what the Senate was going to do about calling witnesses at the impeachment trial. And we found out definitively what Susan Collins was going to do about witnesses at the impeachment trial, which is, she voted to hear them. But, of course, as you probably are aware, that did not carry the day, as only she and Mitt Romney voted to hear from witnesses, and the effort failed 51 to 49.

Collins spoke with Maine Public's Mal Leary about her votes so far in the impeachment trial and about her response to political attacks:

Collins On Her Vote

Collins: I felt that there were some inconsistencies, some ambiguities and unanswered questions that witnesses would help to resolve. And that's exactly the approach I took in President Clinton's trial. And while it is the approach that I negotiated to ensure that there would be a guaranteed up or down vote on witnesses in this trial. And it is frustrating that we are not allowed to debate during the trial, and we have to sit there silently. And so it's difficult to get the rationale for what has happened out to the public.

Leary: You really wanted some witnesses to come forward. There was a lot of discussion about John Bolton because of his book manuscript and what's being leaked from it. But how do you go now and cast a vote on whether to acquit the president without the information that you think you need?

Collins: I will be making a decision based on the record before us. Now, that record does have witnesses. There were 17 witnesses called by the House who did testify. And there are more than 28,000 pages of documents that we have. It does not include John Bolton, who, obviously, I thought was a key witness who would have added more of a firsthand account as to what happened. And I thought that both sides should be able to call -- not an unlimited number of witnesses, and neither were asking for an unlimited number of witnesses -- but to call witnesses to help answer these questions. Since that motion narrowly failed, I will now have to make a decision based on the record before me.

Leary: Social media across the state is just pummeling you on the vote with allegations that there was a deal cooked up between you and Mitch McConnell. How do you respond to that kind of social media attacks that are pretty broad spread?

Collins: Well, first of all, they're absolutely untrue. And I find it interesting that it ignores the fact that along with Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander, I crafted the provision that guaranteed that we would have a vote on witnesses. That was not in the initial draft resolution that Mitch McConnell presented. And I led the effort to get that included. So it makes no sense to say that I'm now kowtowing to the leader, when in fact he did not want to have a vote on witnesses in the first place.

Leary: When you look at this politically, as I just saw a special on one of the cable news networks that highlighted your upcoming Senate race and how this might play into that, how much of that were you thinking about as you went through this process?

Collins: I truly was not considering that. When you are faced with the momentous question of whether or not the duly elected president of the United States should be removed from office and blocked from appearing on the ballot for an election that is just months away, you have to weigh the constitutional and real life considerations of that vote. You can't you can't make a political vote on that.

What It Could Mean

Gratz: That's Maine Senator Susan Collins speaking with our Mal Leary on the day after she cast one of the two votes to hear witnesses during the impeachment trial. Mal, one of the things I was struck by is that she sounded rather upbeat on the day after making a vote that has to be pretty consequential, not only for the president, but ultimately for her and her reelection bid this year.

Leary: I think that might be due to the fact that she got a good night's sleep, Irwin. Got to remember, this week has been a real trial on the senators with late night sessions, and they're often functioning on just a few hours sleep. So she joked with me before we went on tape about how she finally had a good night's sleep, first one in the week.

Gratz: Steve Mistler, what were some of your thoughts listening to that?

Mistler: Well, I think it was pretty interesting to hear her address the idea, this attack from Democrats that Mitch McConnell sort of engineered this vote in the sense that, you know, that allowed her to call for witnesses up front, which is true. She was part of this small group of Republican senators who pushed for the organizing resolution, which allowed for yesterday's up or down vote on witnesses. And if not for that, we wouldn't have an up or down vote on witnesses, because McConnell did not want to do that initially. The problem I think that she faces here is that McConnell, and he has probably not done her a lot of favors when he came out several weeks ago and said that he was working in concert with the White House, and so that in and of itself makes it sound like the cake was baked in advance of this thing. It doesn't do Senator Collins any favors, because now she has to sit there and try to explain to everybody that this was not, you know, preordained, as it were. You know, 'I was acting independently,' etc. And the other thing I thought was interesting, too, is listening to her talk to Mal, is that she's used some terminology here that I heard in the statements from Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander. If you recall, Lamar Alexander was considered a key vote.

Gratz: Exactly. He's from Tennessee. He is not running for reelection, so there was some thinking that he might be freer to go against Trump and McConnell in this vote.

Mistler: That's right. And in his statement declaring that he did not see any witnesses, he did say a couple of things that were interesting, which is, one, he thought that what the president had done was inappropriate and wrong, and that the House essentially had proven its case. But he also said that he didn't think that what the president did was impeachable, meaning he could not be removed from office. And then Lisa Murkowski, who is with the same group of senators who are, of course, you know, did this organizing resolution, said, 'I don't need to hear from any more witnesses,' took a similar attack. Now they're all coming at this from different perspectives. Collins is the most vulnerable of these three right here. Mitt Romney from Utah is the least vulnerable. Collins is the most. You could see their statements and how they line up with their electoral peril, it as it were. Murkowski is probably second in line in terms of danger because she'll be up in a year or two. Collins is this year. Romney is six years out, and Lamar Alexander is leaving. But it is interesting that they do seem to be sharing some of the terminology in describing A. the House process, which did seem, you know, they did not go forward and go to the courts to get subpoenas and witnesses enforced by the courts, and also, in their criticism of the House process. Now, I don't know what that foreshadows for Senator Collins when, you know, this vote potentially takes place on Wednesday and in terms of whether the president is acquitted or convicted. But it is interesting to hear her use some of that same terminology. And also the other thing that she said is that we would be removing the President from the ballot in November. Now, if you watch these impeachment proceedings very closely, that was an argument made repeatedly by the White House attorneys representing the president.

Leary: Yes, some of the language that Steve's talking about was also used by some of the Democrats in terms of arguing why the Senate needed to call witnesses. It was almost like a backhanded slap at the House saying that, 'hey, there's more stuff that we need to know.' And they never went forward and did these subpoenas, for example, with John Bolton, when they certainly had the opportunity, even though it was before the book excerpt came out that got everyone all excited this week. So I think we ought to talk also about Senator Angus King, who also voted to bring in witnesses. He expressed absolute amazement that no Republican senators beyond Romney and Collins voted to bring in witnesses. He said he sat through all of the testimony and all of the arguments, and just could not believe that there was not another Republican senator who saw the need to have witnesses subpoenaed and brought forward. Well, it's an interesting situation because, of course, Angus King is not up for reelection, at least for, what, five years now. So he was very much in support of this whole idea of bringing folks forward and being subpoenaed.

Mistler: And I would also add that King's statement that he put out after the witness vote failed in the Senate was very interesting because he talked about the vote and the blocking of the witnesses being a stain on the institution of the Senate. And the other thing he said that was very interesting, too, was that more stuff is going to come out and it's going to be very difficult for the folks who blocked witnesses, now we're obviously excluding Collins from this this conversation here, but it's gonna be very difficult for Republicans who block these witnesses to, you know, to sort of live with those votes. I don't know about that, honestly, because, look, there's a lot of bad stuff that's come out and none of it really looks that great for the president. And we already have Republicans saying that what he did was really bad, but just not enough to get him out of office. You know, I'm not sure if there's anything more that's going to make it any more difficult for them. If they're okay with this, as it is, they're probably going to be okay with it no matter what happens.

Gratz: And of course, King is an independent, so he owes nothing to the Republican Party.

Leary:There's a lot of national reports, too, that there may be an effort following the trial for some sort of resolution that definitively states that the Senate doesn't think what the president did was right,it simply was not raised to the level of impeachment and removal from office. And the question is whether that gets much traction in the next few days ahead.

Mistler: Yeah. And one last thing I would add, too, is that I know that we're sort of focused on how voters and independents will react to Collins calling for witnesses and whether or not that will be enough to appease their apparent desire to do so. On the far right, she is getting beat up here. I mean, Mark Levin, who is part of Fox News, sort of Praetorian Guard for the president, was critical of her when she came out with saying that she wanted witnesses on Thursday evening. There was a report in, I think Newsweek, quoting a GOP adviser, Ed Rollins, who described her as a dead woman walking because she had supported, you know, bringing witnesses. Now, I don't how much of that will come to fruition. We're talking about, you know, far right partisans here, and their views may not be near representative of voters writ large. I suspect that there will be some Trump supporters who feel that way, and they're very angry with her. But I don't know how many, you know, are actually going to hold her to account on Election Day.

Leary: I did discuss that with Senator Collins, and she said that the phone calls to her office have just been about split with, you know, some support for her votes and others opposed to it, which she said it was just about what she expected.

Gratz: Mal, you did talk with her at greater length. Were there any other major points that she made during her interview with you?

Leary: I think, for example, that she's going to come forward and explain her final votes during her speech on the floor. I think that's important. She was much harsher in some of her comments about the social media attacks on her, saying, you know, they just have absolutely no basis whatsoever, that she just does not understand why they -- I think she put it 'They have every right to criticize me on social media, but it's not true.' So I think that's getting to her because she obviously was well aware of some of the instances I mentioned to her that I had seen on social media.

Transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Maine's Political Pulse was produced this week by Irwin Gratz. Caitlin Troutman is the digital producer. The theme music is by Rob Holt.

Originally published Feb. 1, 2020 at 4:52 p.m. ET.