AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said President Donald Trump is “angered” — not emboldened — after his acquittal on impeachment charges in a Wednesday interview with the Bangor Daily News on the Senate trial and its aftermath.
Collins, who is up for re-election in 2020, was heavily watched during the impeachment trial, but ultimately sided with all but one of her fellow Republicans in voting to acquit the president last week on Democratic charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
In the interview, the Maine senator also discussed her unsuccessful attempt to call witnesses, her standard on impeaching a president and expressed unease about Republicans’ signaled investigation into the Ukraine whistleblower. Here are the main points.
Collins was asked if recent firings and remarks on a sentence of a one-time associate were a sign that Trump was emboldened by acquittal. She said no. The Maine previously said she thought the president had “learned” from impeachment, a remark she later walked back by saying it was aspirational. She reiterated Wednesday that her vote to acquit Trump was based on evidence in the trial, not a calculation of what he might do afterward.
Since his acquittal, Trump took action against two witnesses who testified in the House impeachment inquiry. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was removed from his National Security Council post while Gordon Sondland was recalled as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
On Tuesday, he tweeted criticism of the federal prosecutors who recommended a nine-year sentence for Roger Stone, a one-time adviser to Trump who was convicted of wiretapping and other charges in connection to the report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The government has since advocated for reducing Stone’s sentence.
Collins told USA Today that she thought the president “should not have got involved” in Stone’s case. When asked about these actions and whether Trump seemed emboldened by acquittal, Collins said “no,” adding that Trump “often acts in an impulsive manner.”
“I think the president was angered by impeachment and that is reflected in the personnel choices he made,” she said.
Some Republicans want to investigate the Ukraine whistleblower. Collins said that prospect makes her uncomfortable. House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was spurred by the report of a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump asking Ukraine’s leader to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which Collins is a member, could subpoena the whistleblower. Collins said she would only see a case for calling the whistleblower to testify if there were a “compelling case” that they lied in their written testimony.
“I am very uncomfortable when I hear about investigations of a whistleblower,” Collins said. “We have a law that explicitly protects whistleblowers because they perform an invaluable role in exposing wrongdoing in government.”
Collins said she did not know the Senate would not have enough votes to call witnesses in the impeachment trial until the vote occurred. Before the trial began, Collins said she was “hopeful” the Senate would reach an agreement that would allow both sides to call witnesses. She worked with a group of three Republican senators — Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — to rules for the trial forcing a vote on witnesses.
As she signaled, Collins voted against Democratic bids to subpoena witnesses early in the trial, but voted in favor of calling them after senators had heard cases from Trump and House Democrats. Romney and Collins were the only Republicans to break with their party on the witness vote and it failed. Collins said she didn’t know how the vote would go until it happened.
Collins said after the trial that she wanted to hear from Sondland and former White House national security adviser John Bolton. Of the former, she found his House testimony had “inconsistencies and gaps.” The senator said she did not want to speculate on whether hearing additional testimony could have changed her vote on either article of impeachment.
She remained skeptical of the House’s case for removing the president from office, saying in a speech on her acquittal vote that the abuse of power charge didn’t warrant immediately removing Trump and that Democrats should have tested the obstruction charge in court.
Collins said treason and bribery were the two cases where she sees clear grounds for impeachment and removal of a president. The Maine senator said she considers impeachment an “extremely high bar to reach.” Collins came to a similar decision in 1999, when she was one of four Republicans to vote to acquit President Bill Clinton while saying impeachment should be reserved for situations when a president “injures the fabric of democracy.”
She said on Wednesday that treason or bribery would be clear cases where she would vote to remove a president from office, as the Constitution specifically names both those offenses as reasons for impeachment.
“The part that’s harder is high crimes and misdemeanors,” she said — the other cases in which the Constitution allows for impeachment. She noted the Framers rejected maladministration as impeachment grounds and added that policy disagreements were not enough.