Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — a key potential Republican swing vote — told an Anchorage TV station that she was “disturbed” by the Senate majority leader’s statement last week that the verdict in President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial was already determined.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the House’s case for impeachment “so darn weak” and said there was “zero chance” Trump would be removed from office. The majority leader also promised “total coordination” with the White House and Trump’s defense team.
Murkowski told NBC affiliate KTUU that she believes there should be distance between the Senate, which will serve as the jury for Trump’s impeachment trial, and the White House. McConnell’s comments, she said, have “further confused the process.”
“To me, it means we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense,” Murkowski said.
The senior senator told KTUU that she felt House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had rushed impeachment so it could be wrapped up before Christmas. The House, Murkowski said, mishandled the process when two key witnesses followed White House direction and refused to testify: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney ignored a subpoena, and former national security adviser John Bolton indicated he would fight a subpoena in court. Murkowski says the House should have taken the issue to the courts.
Instead, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., opted to move forward with a vote on articles of impeachment. Waiting on the courts would delay a trial, which Schiff said was unacceptable due to the time-sensitive nature of the accusations against Trump, including that he had encouraged foreign interference in the upcoming 2020 election.
Although the House voted Dec. 18 on two impeachment articles for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Pelosi has yet to formally send them to the Senate for a trial. First, Pelosi said, she wants to know “what sort of trial the Senate will conduct.” In a letter to colleagues Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., argued that documents withheld by the White House during the House impeachment process should be subpoenaed as part of the Senate trial.
McConnell called the holdup “absurd.”
Trump has lashed out at Pelosi over the delay and called the trial an “Impeachment Scam.” Those sharp critiques are in stark contrast to the president’s Christmas morning video message with first lady Melania Trump, in which he called for unity and respect.
“While the challenges that face our country are great, the bonds that unite us as Americans are much stronger,” Trump said. “Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect, traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.”
Murkowski told KTUU she is committed to observing Trump’s trial objectively. It would be “wrong,” she said, “to prejudge and say there’s nothing there.” To jump to conclusions about Trump’s guilt would also be unfair, Murkowski added.
After Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was investigated in 2018 by the Senate Judiciary Committee over allegations of sexual misconduct, Murkowski bucked her party and voted against his confirmation. At the time, Trump said in a phone call with The Washington Post that he believed the senator would “never recover.”
Trump advertised his strained relationship with Murkowski at a November fundraising event in Washington, according to attendees.
“She hates me. I kind of like her, but she really doesn’t like me,” he said, referring to Murkowski. “We do so much for Alaska, you’d think we’d get her vote for something one of these days.”
In the TV interview in Anchorage, Murkowski did not say how she would vote when the Senate trial takes place.
She is viewed as one of three Republican swing voters in the Senate, a designation with which she is comfortable.
“If it means that I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president, I’m totally good with that,” Murkowski said. “I am totally, totally good with that.”
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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.