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Times Record
Updated November 12, 2019
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In Brunswick, Collins expresses concern over comments made by new acting attorney general

Chris Quattrucci/The Times Record

Sen. Susan Collins offered her thoughts Friday on acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker and recent election results. Collins was in Brunswick for a fabrication ceremony at the Bath Iron Works Hardings Fabrication facility. (Chris Quattrucci / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she is concerned about President Trump’s ousting of Jeff Sessions a day after the midterm elections, as well as with the appointment of Sessions’ replacement, Matthew Whittaker, as acting U.S. Attorney General.

Collins praised Sessions following his resignation, calling him a man of integrity and great strength.

“He was unwavering when it came to protecting the integrity of the special counsel’s investigation,” said Collins, speaking Friday at a Bath Iron Works facility in Brunswick. “When I read some of the comments that Mr. Whittaker has made about some of the parameters of the special council’s investigation, it is of great cause for concern.”

Whittaker’s past comments regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — including a 2017 CNN op-ed implying the investigation was overstepping its bounds — has Collins worried that Whittaker might impede the investigation or reporting of results.

Collins said Friday she would support legislation protecting Mueller’s work as special counsel. She discussed the The Special Counsel and Integrity Act, a bill that would prevent any executive interference into the investigation from President Donald Trump.

“I talked with one of my colleagues last night who is a major co-sponsor of the bill to put some parameters around the President’s ability to fire the special council,” said Collins. “He is going to be pushing for that bill to be brought to the senate floor. I, too, believe that the bill should be brought to the senate floor, debated and voted on.”

Collins said she didn’t expect that bill to be well received by the president, but believes the show of support for the Mueller’s investigation is needed.

“I know the president is never going to sign that bill into law and there are some legitimate constitutional issues,” said Collins. “Debating it and passing it would send a strong message that the special’s counsel’s work must be allowed to continue unimpeded.”

Collins, a Republican, joins Maine’s other senator, independent Angus King in raising a warning over Sessions’ departure.

“The fact that (Trump) passed over Rod Rosenstein to appoint someone else who’s been critical certainly raises concerns,” King said, according to an article in the Morning Sentinel. “I’m hoping Congress can act.”

Maine’s First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree on Wednesday tweeted that the timing of Sessions’ resignation “raises red flags,” and wrote that she and her colleagues would be watching for interference from Trump into the Mueller investigation.

Pingree is co-sponsoring a the House version of a bill designed to protect the Mueller investigation that would make it harder for a president to fire a special counsel.

Related: Sen. King says Congress should act to ensure integrity of Mueller probe

And in a written statement Friday, Collins threw her support behind the Senate’s version, stating, “I am concerned about comments that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has made regarding the Special Counsel and the parameters of his investigation.  Although Mr. Rosenstein remains in charge of day-to-day oversight, Mr. Whitaker has the authority to intervene at any time in contrast to the recusal of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

“Senate debate and passage of this bill would send a powerful message that Mr. Mueller must be able to complete his work unimpeded,” Collins stated.

Midterm fallout

Collins also discussed the week’s midterm election results, saying she hasn’t had much time to reflect on the outcomes. In Maine, Democrat Janet Mills won the gubernatorial race, and the party now holds a majority in the house and senate. Nationally, the results were mixed, with Democrats taking control of the U.S. House and Republicans increasing their majority hold on in the Senate. Collins acknowledged some of the possible factors for a blue wave.

“I don’t know what the exit polls have shown,” said Collins. “I know that health care was an issue. I know that Justice Kavanaugh was an issue. I’m just not sure how it all interacts.”

Collins received a mix of praise and condemnation for her decision to back the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Hers was one of the key votes in placing him on the court amid accusations of a decades-old sexual assault.

“This is an opportunity for people like me who try to bring people together to find common ground,” said Collins. “It’s not going to be one-party rule, we’re going to have support from both parties to get things done. Anyone’s who’s been elected wants to have accomplishments, my hope is that this will actually result in more significant accomplishments sent to the president.”

Collins, who hasn’t committed to running for reelection in 2020 but said she would be prepared to run again if she chooses, also aired displeasure with the idea of ranked-choice voting, used for the first time this year in a Maine election.

“The issue with ranked choice voting is that it can result in the person who received the most votes not being selected to represent the people of Maine,” said Collins. “That is an odd outcome to me.”

A close race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District between incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden is set to be the nation’s first congressional race decided by ranked-choice voting. Collins’ next campaign could be subject to ranked-choice voting.

“It is the current law in the state of Maine, and I respect that but I do believe it could lead to strange outcomes,” she added.

Collins argued a run-off style election would be a less complicated way to determine a winner. Collins didn’t say whether she thought Poliquin or the Republican Party should pursue a lawsuit if he wins on the first round of voting but loses after the ranked-choice process plays out.

“I think that’s a decision they have to make,” said Collins. “I would not presume to try to advise them on that.”

Collins added she is proud of the strong support she’s received from the people of Maine and said she believes she could win a majority of votes in a ranked-choice election.

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