Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Monday that she is “open” to calling witnesses as part of the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump but stressed that it is still too early to decide who, if anyone, should be called.
Collins — in separate interviews with Maine Public Radio and WCSH, a Maine TV station — said a decision on potential witnesses should wait until after opening arguments from both House impeachment managers and Trump’s team.
“I am open to witnesses. 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,” Collins told Maine Public Radio when asked about calling acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney or former national security adviser John Bolton.
Collins said she thought Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) should look to the Clinton impeachment trial as a framework for their negotiations. Collins, one of the 15 senators in the chamber in 1999, said the Clinton agreement was “fair” and “thorough.”
During the Clinton trial, senators voted 100-0 on a resolution detailing the rules and process for the proceeding. A second resolution that called for closed-door depositions of three specific witnesses broke down along party lines.
“We then had a vote on whether or not we needed further information, and we decided to depose three witnesses. So they did not testify in person, but they were deposed by both sides, and that was a valuable way to proceed in that trial,” Collins told WCSH recalling the Clinton process.
Collins added that it was “hard to envision” that McConnell and Schumer will be able deal on the start of the impeachment trial that would pass 100-0. The Senate left town earlier this month until January with the two leaders at an “impasse” over the impeachment trial rules.
Collins told Maine Public Radio that she’s spoken in the GOP caucus about urging leaders to use the Clinton trial as their framework.
“I have shared with my colleagues my belief that the Clinton approach, the approach to the Clinton trial worked well,” she said.
Collins’s comments come even as many of her GOP colleagues, including McConnell, are lining up behind a quick impeachment trial with potentially no witnesses from either Trump’s team or the House impeachment managers.
Republicans want to punt the decision on potential witnesses until after opening arguments, but McConnell told Fox News Radio earlier this month that “after we’ve heard the arguments, we ought to vote and move on.”
Collins has emerged as a key swing vote to watch in the Senate impeachment proceeding. She has not tipped her hand as to how she might vote on conviction or acquittal.
Democrats are requesting four witnesses as part of the trial, including Mulvaney and Bolton, as well as Ukraine-related documents. They’ll need to win over four GOP senators in order to successfully call a witness during the trial and have pledged that they will force votes on the Senate floor.
But Schumer wants to pass one resolution at the outset of the trial that would include both a deal on process and a deal on specific witnesses instead of two separate resolutions.
The House voted earlier this month to impeach Trump on two counts: one charging him with abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and the second with obstruction of Congress during its investigation of those actions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hasn’t said when she will send over the articles. Senators expect the Senate trial will start in January.
“The House chose to ignore the option of going to court and rushed to get through the articles of impeachment by Christmas and yet has still not sent them over to the Senate,” Collins said about the House process.