President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was tense right from the get-go on Tuesday, when both sides gathered to debate the rules that would be approved for the rest of the trial. Late into the night, when technically, the clock had shifted to Wednesday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both sides to keep their rhetoric in check when making their cases. Now, it’s come out that perceived moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine apparently submitted a note to Roberts requesting his intervention shortly before he spoke out. That adds another complication to the story of her trial behavior while some have tried to suggest she’d support Democratic demands for witnesses.
It’s unclear what precisely may have been on her note and how it may have influenced Roberts’s remarks, but Collins explained:
‘I was stunned by Congressman Nadler’s approach, and it reminded me that if we were in a normal debate in the Senate that the rule will be invoked to strike the words of the Senator, for imputing another Senator in this case, so I did write a note raising the issue of whether there had been a violation of the rules of the Senate, and I gave that note to Laura Dove, and well shortly thereafter the Chief Justice did admonish both sides and I was glad that he did.’
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who’s serving as one of the impeachment case managers, had accused Republicans of voting for a cover-up via opposing the Democratic attempts at calling witnesses and summoning evidence. He called their vote against witnesses “an absolutely indefensible vote” and “obviously a treacherous vote,” adding that it’s:
‘A vote against an honest consideration of the evidence against the President. A vote against an honest trial. A vote against the United States.’
Although in reality, that’s exactly what these Republican Senators were doing, Nadler has attracted criticism from other Republicans too, who have alleged that he stepped out of line via pointing out the straightforward facts of their behavior and its implications. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that she was “offended” by Nadler’s cover-up accusation, since she is “listening attentively and working hard to get to a fair process.” Trump ally Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wi.) called Nadler’s comments “jaw-dropping,” but it’s not like anyone ever really wondered what side that he was on.
If Democrats want to get any Republican support for calling witnesses, they’re likely going to have to rely on supposed moderates like Collins and Murkowski, who’ve rarely broken with the party before — although in the era of Trump’s GOP, the bar is low. Both of them have said they’d be open to considering witnesses after opening arguments. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), another supposed moderate, has also said he’d want to hear from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton.
Democrats would need a total of four Republican defections to secure a majority in favor of witnesses, a question that seems likely to be formally considered this coming week.