Why it matters that Susan Collins is more than an impeachment juror

With impeachment looming, history calls Sen. Susan Collins’ name, defining her legacy and affecting her political future. 

Collins has seen two other impeachment processes first hand — as Sen. Bill Cohen’s intern during Watergate and as a senator during the Clinton impeachment. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is surely quite aware that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and Russia spread false claims that Ukraine was the culprit instead, propaganda that President Donald Trump continues to repeat. 

But, despite being well prepared for the task, it’s not clear Collins recognizes the full extent of the Senate’s role. 

To live up to this moment, Collins needs to see herself as more than the label she’s adopted — a juror.

Sen. Susan Collins speaks with members of the media on Oct. 22 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Yes, senators will hear evidence and vote on charges against Trump. But an impeachment trial isn’t like a normal trial and senators aren’t like normal jurors. 

Senators aren’t selected from a jury pool. No lawyers question senators and recuse some. No one expects senators to have not learned about the case beforehand. Senators aren’t sequestered when the case is heard.

Another critical difference involves evidence. Typical jurors don’t decide what evidence is presented. Senators affect what they see.

That matters tremendously because, while what the House Intelligence Committee has discovered so far is rather damning, Trump has blocked much from being known. Thus key witnesses have not testified and critical documents have been withheld. 

According to the lawyer for former National Security Advisor John Bolton, his client was part of “many relevant meetings and conversations” about Ukraine that haven’t even been heard of yet. 

Surely we should hear from Bolton about those and meetings others have discussed.

Bolton aide Fiona Hill told the House investigation that, in response to a July 10 meeting about pressuring Ukraine to announce a probe of the Bidens, Bolton said, “I am not part of whatever drug deal [European Union Ambassador Gordon] Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.” 

While Sondland testified there was a pay-to-play scheme involving many, the Senate should hear from witnesses who refused to testify, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani and Bolton. 

More White House papers should be released. March 2019 documents just made available due to a watchdog’s group’s lawsuit back former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony that “a campaign of disinformation against a sitting Ambassador, using unofficial back channels” was mounted by individuals who felt “stymied” by U.S. efforts to stop corruption. 

The organization’s director notes the “clear paper trail from Rudy Giuliani to the Oval Office to Secretary Pompeo to facilitate Giuliani’s smear campaign against a U.S. ambassador.” 

Other documents and witnesses can reveal how the White House tried to keep information from Congress and the public and create cover stories, and possibly obstruct justice. 

For instance, the Washington Post reported that the White House Counsel’s Office conducted a review on “Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine” that “has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision.” The House has not seen this report. The Senate should.

House members presenting the case to the Senate will try to shake loose documents and witnesses kept from them by the White House. They can ask Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the Senate trial, to require this evidence.

But under the Senate impeachment rules, Roberts, unlike an ordinary judge, doesn’t make all evidentiary decisions. The Senate can vote to hear the evidence Trump doesn’t want seen and heard.

For Collins, being more than an impeachment juror means ensuring that Trump doesn’t block the country from knowing what he and his administration did. 

Collins should call for more evidence relevant to the charges to be made available and vote to do so. Only then can Collins hope to fulfill her high constitutional responsibility, doing so in a way so that history and her constituents judge her well.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.