Now we know what it takes for Sen. Susan Collins to take a principled stand in the Trump impeachment trial.

Early Wednesday morning, when she was in the process of voting 11 times to block the admission of witnesses and documentary evidence, Collins was “stunned” to hear those votes described as contributing to a “cover-up.”

It made her so mad, she wrote a note.

“I did give that to a senior aide, she brought it up to the parliamentarian,” Collins explained to News Center Maine (WCSH). “The parliamentarian discussed it with the chief justice and then a few minutes later the chief justice admonished both parties to maintain the appropriate decorum, and I was glad that he did.”

Collins’ objection came after Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is one of the House impeachment managers, called out the Republicans for voting to make the impeachment trial in the Senate as short and painless as possible for their president.

“I see a lot of senators voting for a cover-up, voting to deny witnesses, an absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote,”  a cranky Nadler said.

Collins told Politico that she thought that was a violation of Senate rules and her note prompted a mild warning from Chief Justice John Roberts.

The judge pointed out that a senator had once objected to the use of the word “pettifogging” in a 1905 impeachment trial of a federal judge.

“I don’t think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.”

Pettifogging, as you may know, is an old-fashioned word that means “worrying too much about minor details.” That is also a pretty good word to describe where Maine’s senior senator chose to make her stand last week.

Instead of demanding to see every last shred of evidence of the president’s conduct before she voted on whether he is guilty of manipulating America’s foreign policy and national security interests to cheat in an election, she chose to get lost in the weeds.

Outside the Senate, Collins said she would “likely vote” to hear from witnesses, but not until after the House managers and the president’s lawyers have presented their entire cases and all 100 senators have exhausted their collective 16 hours of questions.

Inside the Senate, Collins and every one of her Republican colleagues voted against seeing official documents from the State Department and Office of Management and Budget that the White House refused to turn over to House investigators. And they voted against hearing from relevant witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he would respond to a Senate subpoena.

There will be a vote sometime this week whether to request more evidence, but that won’t pass unless four Republicans join the Democrats and demand it.

That seems like a long shot, since some senators would have to change their minds, and Republicans have limited the evidence before them to what has already been made public.

As judges tell jurors, what the lawyers say is not evidence. Only witness testimony and introduced exhibits can be considered in their verdict.

Collins says the upside down process she voted for – trial now, evidence later, maybe – is consistent with the process used in the Clinton impeachment. Collins even showed she has some influence in her caucus when she reportedly pressured Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change his proposed trial rules to make them more like the process that had been used in 1999.

If Donald Trump had been accused of something as simple as having sexual relations with a White House intern and then lying about it under oath, or if Trump’s case had been subject to a grand jury process where all the relevant witnesses including the president himself had testified, she might have a point.

But, since the circumstances in this case are entirely different, she does not.

Nadler was right. They voted for a cover-up.

Collins was given the chance to demand to see all the evidence and instead voted to stick with the outward appearance of the last impeachment trial.

Since we’re not in the Senate, we can call that what it is: pettifogging at its worst.


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