Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, returns to the Senate chamber from the afternoon break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite | AP

The U.S. Senate on Friday voted to reject calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial despite yes votes from both of Maine’s senators including Republican Susan Collins, formally paving the way for the president’s near-certain acquittal. But senators moved to push off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The result is likely to thrust the issue further into Collins’ 2020 re-election campaign amid an aggressive Democratic effort to flip her seat in a blue-leaning state. Early this month, she was working with a small group of Republican senators and leaders in a bid to at least ensure a vote on whether witnesses would be called.

While signaling her Friday vote for weeks, Collins also voted with Republicans to quash the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to ensure witnesses from the beginning of the trial, citing a desire to stick to the order of operations in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.

Collins formally announced that she would vote in favor of witnesses on Thursday night, saying that additional testimony would “give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity.” Her office didn’t immediately answer a question about any particular witnesses she would have voted to allow.

Democrats are now likely to point to Collins’ earlier witness votes, though they would have fallen short with her support. In a statement, Marie Follatyar, a leader of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a liberal group that has organized against Collins, said the senator “has failed to be who she says she is and we will vote her out.”

“If she votes to acquit the president after this sham process, any credibility she had left as an independent voice for Maine will be gone,” said Kathleen Marra, the chair of the Maine Democratic Party.

Only one other Republican — Mitt Romney of Utah — joined Collins in Friday’s vote. It put them and minority Democrats two votes shy of the 51 required to call witnesses, which could have stretched the trial for days or weeks and put former White House national security adviser John Bolton before senators.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who voted with Democrats, called the vote “nothing less than an abdication of our responsibilities, an asterisk on these proceedings, and a stain on our institution” in a statement.

An unpublished manuscript from Bolton twice roiled the trial, though Republicans have been able to brush past it so far. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that it revealed Trump had told Bolton in August 2019 that a hold on military aid to Ukraine was tied to the country launching investigations into Democrats.

The newspaper also reported Friday that Bolton writes Trump asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Trump largely denied both of Bolton’s claims.

They relate to the articles of impeachment against Trump by House Democrats, which allege that the president abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in 2020, and that the president obstructed the House’s investigation.

Schumer forced more votes on witnesses in the Senate on Friday evening that were defeated by Republicans, while the vote on removing Trump is set for Wednesday. Collins hasn’t said how she will vote then, while King said on Friday that he is likely to vote to remove the president from office.

Only one of the four Democrats running for the nomination to face Collins in a June primary — lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell — committed to supporting Trump’s removal when the Bangor Daily News surveyed candidates in December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...