Here’s something that won’t make things any easier on her: We’ve got video of Colllins during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, calling for “more evidence” and “witnesses,” in order to “get to the truth,” and to fulfill the Senate’s “duty to do impartial justice.”
The video, which you can watch above, was unearthed by a Democrat, and is available in C-Span’s video library. Collins delivered these remarks on Jan. 27, 1999, during Clinton’s Senate trial, at a time when the Senate was debating whether to introduce new witnesses and evidence.
“I am willing to travel the road wherever it leads, whether it’s to the conviction or the acquittal of the president,” Collins said. “But in order to do that, I need more evidence. I need witnesses and further evidence to guide me to the right destination, to get to the truth.”
She added that this would help answer outstanding questions, “in order to fulfill our duty to do impartial justice.”
The circumstances were somewhat similar to the present. Clinton had been impeached by the House in December 1998 for lying under oath and obstructing justice to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The Senate trial had begun in early January, and on Jan. 27, the Senate voted on two motions: one to dismiss the proceedings, which failed, and a second on whether to depose witnesses and admit further evidence, which passed with Collins’s support.
Collins, in calling for more witnesses and evidence, appeared to be genuinely struggling with the situation, particularly when it came to the article on obstruction of justice.
In the end, Collins voted against conviction on both articles, and she appears to have genuinely evaluated the evidence without regard for party loyalty. She perhaps wanted more evidence for a reasonable purpose.
At the same time, however, Collins was contesting efforts to limit the facts in evidence against a president of the opposing party — just as Democrats are doing now. And she described the overall duty of senators in a manner clearly applicable to the present, and in sync with the demands Democrats are now making.
To wit, Collins noted that the need for witnesses and more evidence was necessitated by the fact that the record was “replete with conflicting statements” and “significant gaps” and “unanswered questions,” and that those questions needed to be answered for the Senate to fulfill its “duty to do impartial justice.”
It’s plainly obvious that this set of values deserves to be applied to the present. The witnesses Democrats want to question — such as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton — absolutely can fill in “gaps" and answer "questions.”
Both Mulvaney (who froze the military aid to Ukraine at Trump’s direction, just before Trump corruptly demanded that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky carry out his political dirty deeds) and Bolton (who privately argued with Trump over the frozen aid) have direct knowledge of Trump’s motives at an absolutely critical moment.
Both were blocked by the White House from testifying to the House impeachment inquiry.
Trump’s pressure on Zelensky, which was driven by deeply corrupt motives, is already impeachable on its own (it’s the lead point in the first article), without the conditioning of official acts (the military aid and the White House meeting) that did, in fact, happen. But firsthand testimony that Trump explicitly and unequivocally declared that the military aid was frozen in order to extort Ukraine would obviously be more damning still.
Or potentially not! Indeed, Collins’s own 1999 quotes actually suggest soliciting more information could be fairer to Trump as well. As Collins noted, she wanted to be “fair” to Clinton by allowing his lawyers to question witnesses, too.
Why don’t Trump’s lawyers want the opportunity to question Mulvaney and Bolton? Shouldn’t Collins want that as well?
And shouldn’t Collins want to know what Mulvaney and Bolton have to say about Trump’s motives in freezing the aid before voting on articles of impeachment on this topic?
In a statement from Collins sent our way, the senator pointed out that McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should negotiate a “common set of procedures," just as happened with Clinton’s trial.
“I’m not going to make a judgment on the witness issue yet,” Collins said, adding: “At the trial of President Clinton, no witnesses testified in person, but the Senate ordered depositions to be taken from three witnesses.”
McConnell’s strategy now is to keep the pressure on the handful of senators — like Collins — who might be inclined to want witnesses and additional evidence. Losing four would mean McConnell can’t muster a majority for the quick acquittal — without witnesses — that he wants.
Collins has not yet taken a firm stance on this question. But she blamed Schumer for making his demand for witnesses public, which is odd, given that McConnell has already openly advertised his intention to structure the trial for Trump’s maximum political benefit.
We don’t yet know what Trump wants here. His instinct is to turn the trial into a pack of hounds baying for the head of Joe Biden, but it’s likely he’ll realize that it’s far better for him if no witnesses are questioned, as McConnell wants.
So Collins will have to decide whether to side with Trump and McConnell and against truth and transparency, or with them and against the wishes of the base.
“If she votes to have witnesses, she angers Trump and the Republican base in Maine,” Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report, told me. “If she votes for no witnesses, she gives Democrats another cudgel.”
Duffy noted that Democrats have already been hammering Collins over her vote for Trump’s tax cuts and for Supreme Court justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Siding with McConnell, Duffy said, would “feed the message Democrats are weaving about how she’s too close to Trump and has lost her bipartisan way.”