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G.O.P. Senator ‘Disturbed’ by McConnell’s ‘Total Coordination’ with White House

The New York Times logo The New York Times 12/25/2019 Zach Montague
Lisa Murkowski sitting on a table: Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed reservations about Senator Mitch McConnell’s approach on the impeachment trial. © Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed reservations about Senator Mitch McConnell’s approach on the impeachment trial.

WASHINGTON — Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska expressed unease in an interview broadcast on Tuesday with the Senate majority leader’s vow of “total coordination” with the White House on impeachment proceedings against President Trump, a potentially significant crack in Republican unity.

Ms. Murkowski, a moderate with an independent streak, told Anchorage’s NBC affiliate KTUU she opposed “being hand in glove with the defense” and voiced other concerns as the Senate prepares to hold a trial over the two articles of impeachment that the House approved earlier this month.

Ms. Murkowski’s views could prove important. She rarely speaks publicly against Republican leadership, but when she does, she tends to stick with her positions, as when she opposed the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and helped torpedo a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. She also tends to bring Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a fellow moderate Republican with her, and only a handful of defections would force the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to switch course on the upcoming impeachment trial.

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In the interview, Ms. Murkowski said she was “disturbed” by comments by Mr. McConnell that indicated he intends to work in concert with the White House counsel in planning the impeachment trial.

“In fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed,” Ms. Murkowski said. “To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.”

Ms. Murkowski said she felt that House Democrats had made a mistake in forging ahead with impeachment so quickly without potentially valuable testimony from top White House officials such as the former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff.

“If the House truly believed that they had information that was going to be important, they subpoena them, and if they ignore the subpoena as they did, at the direction of the White House, then that next step is to go to the courts,” she said.

Senate Democrats are pressing to include testimony at the trial from Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney, and support from Ms. Murkowski would be critical.

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On December 10, a federal judge pushed off a decision on such testimony, responding to a lawsuit by Charles M. Kupperman, another White House official, who asked the courts to decide whether the House could compel him to testify after he defied a House subpoena in October. The case was expected to provide clarity on whether other officials such as Mr. Bolton would have to testify as well.

Instead of prolonging the process, House Democrats moved forward with articles of impeachment based on evidence already collected, formally accusing Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In a Senate trial to consider removing Mr. Trump from office, the evidentiary standards would be considerably higher than impeachment, which is akin to an indictment.

Democrats argue that Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney have firsthand knowledge of the president’s efforts to force Ukraine’s president to help his re-election by publicly announcing an investigation of Mr. Trump’s Democratic rivals. Mr. Bolton described the machinations around military aid to Ukraine as a “drug deal,” while Mr. Mulvaney would likely understand how Mr. Trump’s desire for a Ukrainian investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter was connected to a suspension of military assistance for the country’s ongoing war with Russia-backed separatists.

Ms. Murkowski also said she felt that Mr. McConnell, who has been meeting privately with the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, in preparation for the trial, had himself contributed to what she sees as the larger problems with the way Mr. Trump’s impeachment has been conducted.

In a Christmas message sent out on Wednesday, Mr. Trump wished Americans well, briefly ignoring the impeachment drama after lamenting his treatment by Democrats throughout the process for much of Christmas Eve.

“While the challenges that face our country are great, the bonds that unite us as Americans are much stronger,” Mr. Trump said in the letter.

As the Senate moves ahead with a trial, Ms. Murkowski is one of a small number of Republicans who has not publicly dismissed the case against the president, and says she remains open to considering the case on its merits.

“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,” she said.

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