U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters on Friday she is working with a “fairly small group” of fellow Republican senators toward a goal of ensuring witnesses can be called in the chamber’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The president is nearly a sure bet to be acquitted in the Republican-led Senate and the trial could start as early as next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, indicated on Friday that she will send the House’s two impeachment articles to the upper chamber.
The proceedings are still a high-stakes event for Collins, who broke the news of her negotiations on Friday while talking to reporters at the end of a visit to the Fruit Street School in Bangor. It could be a major development ahead of the trial, since leading Republicans have questioned the need for witnesses as Democrats have been pressuring Republicans to allow witnesses.
Collins is one of national Democrats’ top targets in the 2020 election and voted against her party in 1999 to acquit President Bill Clinton of impeachment charges. She has largely supported the approach of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, en route to the trial.
At the same time, she has said she is open to calling witnesses while criticizing McConnell — who has pledged “total cooperation” with the White House on the trial — and top Democrats for prejudging the trial’s outcome, saying her role is one of an impartial juror.
On Friday, Collins said she had been working all week with a “fairly small group” of Republican senators and leaders to ensure rules would allow House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers to call witnesses. Collins declined to say how large the group was, but she said “we should be completely open to calling witnesses.”
“I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement upon how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president’s counsel to call witnesses if they choose to do so,” she said.
Spokespeople for McConnell and the White House didn’t comment on Collins’ announcement on Friday, nor did spokespeople for four other Republican senators who were asked by the Bangor Daily News if their bosses were among those negotiating with Collins.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate from Alaska, “has been talking with colleagues and leadership to help craft the resolution that would govern the rules of the trial” based on the Clinton trial that allowed witnesses, according to a spokesperson.
In Washington on Friday afternoon, McConnell said the Senate is “anxious to get started” on the trial and “we’ll get about it as soon as we can.” He has said he wants to launch a speedy trial without new witnesses.
The House impeached Trump in December on the charge that he abused the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine’s new leader to investigate Democrats, using as leverage $400 million in military assistance for the U.S. ally as it counters Russia at its border.
Pelosi has held onto the articles of impeachment since then, and Democrats have used the delay to sow public doubt about the fairness of the process as they try to peel off wavering GOP senators for the upcoming votes, since it takes just 51 senators to set the rules.
“When we say fair trial, we mean facts, we mean witnesses, we mean documents,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. “Every single one of us, in this Senate, will have to have to take a stand. How do my Republican friends want the American people, their constituents, and history to remember them?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Watch: U.S. Senator Susan Collins