Although Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has been careful not to talk about some of the detailed information being made public during the House impeachment inquiry, she is critical of President Donald Trump’s public call for the governments of Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
In an interview with Maine Public Radio’s Mal Leary over the weekend, Collins said the president’s comments were inappropriate and appalling.
Leary: You’ve taken the position, you really don’t want to weigh in on impeachment because you’re going to be a juror. But you’ve got to be concerned when you see the president of the United States on live TV, talking about a quid pro quo with Ukraine or with China to investigate one of his Democratic rivals. Mitt Romney, one of your colleagues called it appalling. And Sen. Sasse has also criticized him. Do you think that was a wise thing for the president to do?
Collins: I certainly don’t. It was clearly wrong, and I was stunned when the president came out this week and said that he had asked the Chinese to investigate his political opponent. That is clearly wrong. It is inappropriate. I would agree with Mitt Romney — it’s appalling.
What I’m trying to distinguish between is reacting to the collection of evidence. For example, from the State Department personnel on the Ukraine desk, there are different versions of what was said, and whether the president linked military assistance to the investigation of Joe Biden’s son. So those are issues of fact that we as jurors would have to determine, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be commenting on the various versions of that. But the president’s comments on China were clearly inappropriate and wrong.
Another area where I have previously commented is for the president to call whistleblowers spies is or treasonous is also wrong. Whistleblowers have played a vital role over decades in bringing to the attention of Congress wrongdoing, fraud, abuse, and we do not want to chill those reports. For the president to denigrate and essentially threaten the whistleblower in this case discourages others from coming forward.
One of the undertakings that the Intelligence Committee in the Senate needs to do is to clear up some ambiguity that is in the whistleblowers law for the intelligence community. There are different legal opinions on whether the inspector general could have gone ahead and investigated the complaint. To me, it’s clear that he can and that he should. In fact, I think that would be the best approach. However, the Justice Department and the lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence ruled otherwise, bringing his further investigation to a screeching halt.
We spent five hours talking to the inspector general and the acting director of national intelligence and his lawyer about the whistleblower protections and other issues that I can’t discuss because it was in a closed session. But it’s clear to me that we do have a role to play in clarifying the law, making sure that there is no retaliation against the whistleblower. And the president’s comments imply that he would be eager to retaliate against the whistleblower. And again, that’s just wrong.
And demanding to know who the whistleblower was.
Correct, the identity of the whistleblower. Now the whistleblower may ultimately have to come forward if there is essentially a trial, but at this stage, his or her identity is appropriately protected, and never should a legitimate whistleblower be subjected to threats of retaliation, or called a spy.
This imterview was edited for clarity.