- May 29, 2001
Jan. 16, 2020 at 6:45 a.m. CST
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) replied yesterday to a reporter’s question about the blockbuster Lev Parnas documents handed over to the House on Tuesday. “I wonder why the House did not put that into the record and it’s only now being revealed,” she said. When told the House had just received them, she retorted, “Doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job, then?” No, and her reply should deeply concern the voters of Maine and anyone who wants a full and fair impeachment trial.
The documents, you will recall, were swept up by the FBI in the arrest of Parnas, a former associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, last fall. Only earlier this month did the district court finally allow Parnas to share them with the House. The House could not get them previously. Doesn’t that suggest Collins did an incomplete job of keeping abreast of the facts?
But take a step back. Documents emerged showing that then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance by a pack of thugs, and that a former Ukrainian prosecutor was, in effect, offering a bribe (an announcement that one of Trump’s political rivals was under investigation) for a public act (firing the ambassador).
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Collins’s first reaction was not, “We need to get to the bottom of this and find out whether the president’s cohorts were spying on our ambassador!” It was not, “How in the world could the secretary of state allowed this to go on?” It was not, “Well, in a full and fair trial in the Senate, we want to get those documents.”
No, it was a right-wing talking point claiming (falsely) that the House’s inability to get evidence because of the president’s stonewalling bars such evidence from being used in a Senate trial. Collins’s notion seems to be that the surefire way to prevent Trump’s removal by the Senate is to stonewall the House. Oddly, that’s been Trump’s tactic, as well, which explains why the second article of impeachment accuses Trump of obstructing Congress.
Former prosecutor Mimi Rocah tells me, “Senator Collins is either ignorant and uninformed because she doesn’t understand or know that a federal court only just released the Parnas docs or she is just making up excuses because the documents are so damning. Either one is unacceptable and the real question she should be asking is why Trump was trying to hide them.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) seemed to share that sentiment. He responded to Collins’s remarks on CNN Wednesday night. “If Senator Collins or other senators are interested in the documents or why they haven’t been available yet, they should turn those questions to the White House and say: ‘Why are you hiding this?’ ”
To make matters even more intriguing, Parnas, appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday night, told host Rachel Maddow, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials.” He went on to say that Giuliani instructed him to tell Ukraine’s president that all aid would be cut off and that Vice President Pence would not attend his inauguration unless Ukraine announced it would open an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden. He also claimed Pence was fully informed. In other words, Parnas opened up a crate of smoking guns.
Collins is reportedly considering voting for witnesses. That would presumably recognize that the Senate is obligated to hold a real trial, with witnesses and documents. No trial court judge says, “New witness available? Sorry, he didn’t come before the grand jury that indicted the defendant!” Collins’s obligation is to make sure the American people, not just Trump, get a fair trial.
Indeed, what the Parnas records remind us is that the documents the administration has refused to turn over are at least as important as the witnesses, if not more so. Since each new batch of documents obtained from a witness such as Parnas or from a Freedom of Information Act request provides damning evidence against the president, one can only assume that the documents Trump and his secretary of state still won’t release contain even bigger bombshells.
Collins and other Republicans can try pointing fingers at the House, but when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) exited the Capitol on Wednesday, the House’s role was over, at least for now. The responsibility rests with the Senate to allow relevant evidence to be presented. The question is whether Collins will read from the White House script or uphold her oath. Maine voters are watching closely.