Collins: Trump was 'wrong' and 'improper' but I'm acquitting him anyway


Collins joins the ranks of Republican senators voting to defend Trump in his impeachment trial.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday afternoon that she would vote to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, falling alongside her fellow Republicans who have maintained Trump's innocence since the start or concluded he is guilty but will acquit him anyway.

Trump was impeached in December on two counts, one for abuse of power related to his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, and another for obstruction of Congress for his efforts to block witness testimony in the House impeachment inquiry and to hide evidence from investigators.

The majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate have stood steadfast with Trump, parroting his claims that his actions were above board and that the impeachment proceedings against him were part of a broader partisan witch hunt.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Collins parted with the vast majority of Republicans somewhat, admitting that it was "clear" that the now-infamous July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump asked the leader to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, was "improper."

"It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival," she said.

However, she argued, House impeachment managers had not proven it necessary to remove Trump from office.

"I do not believe that the House has met its burden of showing that the president's conduct, however flawed, warrants the extreme step of immediate removal from office," she said. "Nor does the record support the assertion by the House managers that the president must not remain in office one moment longer."

"I will vote to acquit on Article I," she added.

Collins has presented a conflicted front in the Senate impeachment trial, voting early on for a Democratic-proposed rule that would have allowed for "additional time to file responses to motions."

However, she voted with her Republican colleagues on every other Democratic proposal at the time, rejecting 10 separate rules package amendments that would have subpoenaed relevant documents and testimony related to Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals early in the trial.

Democrats said the votes were part of a partisan "cover up" intended to help Trump.

Last week, Collins was one of two Republican senators who voted with 47 Democrats to allow new witness testimony, but that effort was defeated 51-49. The other Republican was Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

Earlier in the process, Collins rejected the idea of allowing in a slew of new allegations against Trump from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was indicted for campaign finance violations last October. Parnas alleged, among other things, that Trump and Giuliani had been deeply involved in the pressure campaign against Ukraine.

When asked whether Parnas' allegations should be allowed into Trump's impeachment trial, Collins responded by questioning "why the House did not put that into the record" during its earlier inquiry and why "it's only now being revealed."

Collins is currently one of the Senate's most vulnerable members and earlier this year surpassed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the nation's most unpopular senators. According to a Morning Consult poll in January, 52% of Collins' constituents view her unfavorably. That number was up significantly from January 2017, when just 27% of Maine residents viewed her unfavorably.

Collins faces a tough reelection in 2020, and recently lost a key endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters. In recent months, her office has been beset with rallies and protests from constituents urging her to "stand up to Trump" in his impeachment proceedings.

"I've begged Susan Collins to stand up to Trump," Sue Hawes told the Portland Press Herald in November. "I'm still waiting."

In her floor speech Tuesday, Collins maintained that her decision to acquit Trump was "not about whether you like or dislike this president, or agree with or oppose his policies, or approve or disapprove of his conduct in other circumstances."

"Rather, it is about whether the charges meet the very high constitutional standard of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors," she said.

"It has been 230 years since George Washington first took the oath of office, and there are good reasons why, during that entire time, the Senate has never removed a president," she continued. "Such a move would not only affect the sitting president but could have unpredictable and potentially adverse consequences for public confidence in our electoral process."

She concluded that it was Congress' duty to instead "entrust to the people the most fundamental decision of a democracy — namely, who should lead their country."

In an interview with CBS' Norah O'Donnell explaining her decision to acquit Trump, Collins said she believes Trump has learned "a pretty big lesson" from his impeachment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.