Why was Sen. Collins so quick to believe Trump’s lie about Russia?

Why was Sen. Collins so quick to believe Trump’s lie about Russia?

This week, Mainers and Americans at large bore witness to one of the most alarming political maneuvers in modern American history with President Trump’s abrupt and unprecedented firing of James Comey, the director of an FBI that has been actively ramping up an investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion or collaboration with Russian foreign agents. And faced with that historic crisis, we also got an opportunity to witness a glimpse at Senator Susan Collins’ tendency for partisan instincts to trump political courage during a time of crisis and uncertainty.

Comey’s abrupt dismissal was immediately compared to the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” of the Nixon-era, when the embattled president demanded that the Justice Department fire Archibald Cox, the independent investigator leading the Watergate investigation, triggering the immediate protest resignation of the Attorney General and his deputy before Cox was finally fired by the Solicitor General-turned acting Attorney General. Nixon’s overreach was so egregious that a political tipping point was reached and the leadership of the US Senate forced Nixon’s eventual resignation. While some have been quick to point out that Trump was within his constitutional authority to remove Comey, the fact that the FBI has been engaged in an active investigation of Trump’s close associates creates a clear conflict of interest in which Comey’s removal could be easily viewed as an attempt by the Trump administration to shut down the investigation.

As leaks from within the FBI and the White House continue to spill out to the press following the firing, evidence is mounting that the firing was, indeed, an act of political retribution for the FBI’s continued investigation into the Trump camp, one perhaps meant to both punish Comey and to chill or disrupt the ongoing investigation. That prospect is so dangerous to the independence of the FBI that legal scholars are seriously debating whether or not this event represents a constitutional crisis.

That sense of alarm, however, did not apparently extend to Sen. Collins, who defended Trumps alarming decision and then demurred on Tuesday when asked on a live interview whether she thought the firing would negatively impact the ongoing investigation, saying, “Well, the president didn’t fire the entire FBI. He fired the director of the FBI.”

Collins, an oft-described moderate who serves as a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, more or less reacted to one of the most consequential political crises of her two-decade tenure in the US Senate with a shrug.

In the time since that surreal interview, it became clear that Collins’ full-throated defense of the Trump administration was out of step even with her Republican colleagues in the Senate, only a quarter of whom went on the record defending Trump’s actions and with even more indicating that the firing raised serious concerns. It took about twelve hours for Collins to change her tune and indicate that she was now considering whether or not to recommend that an independent prosecutor take over the case, but that reversal was not swift enough to hide the fact that her first inclination was to ask no questions and move ahead, business as usual.

This of course stands in sharp contrast to Maine’s junior Senator, Angus King (who also sits on the Intelligence Committee), who came out immediately and forcefully for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the sensitive investigation.

Ultimately, it will require 51 senators to push Congress toward fulfilling its constitutional responsibility as a check against the powers of the president, and history will likely remember those who led the charge for accountability in a time of crisis, and those who stood by content to defend their team while the core institutions of the government fell around them. Collins still has a chance to be on the right side of that historic divide, but that her first instinct was to defend the indefensible should not be quickly forgotten.

Sen. Collins official photo.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 39 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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