Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, returns to the chamber as the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins voted to convict Donald Trump at the close of his second impeachment trial on Saturday, though the former president was acquitted of a Democratic charge related to his role in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

It was the Republican senator’s first vote to convict a president in her 24-year tenure. She voted to acquit Trump in his first impeachment trial in 2020, which came during her bitter re-election campaign for a fifth term. She voted against her party to acquit Democrat Bill Clinton in 1999. 

Collins was one of only seven of the 17 Republicans needed to convict Trump of a charge from House Democrats that he incited the riot at the Capitol that killed five people — including a Capitol police officer — and led to the evacuation of senators from the chamber as they certified President Joe Biden’s victory over the former Republican president. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, voted to convict Trump on Saturday.

Her vote is notable and risks Collins’ standing with a conservative Republican base in Maine that admires Trump and former Gov. Paul LePage, both of whom have criticized Collins in recent years. The senator refused to support Trump in 2016 but did not say whether she was voting for him in 2020 as she fended off a high-dollar challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon.

House prosecutors argued that Trump’s rally cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” for his presidency as Congress was convening to certify Biden’s victory was part of an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims that unleashed the mob. Trump’s lawyers countered that his words were not intended to incite and called the trial a “witch hunt.”

In a floor speech, Collins said the riot “was the culmination of a steady stream of provocations by President Trump,” singling out as “egregious” Trump’s earlier call with the Georgia secretary of state in which the former president pressured the official to “find” votes for him.

Collins repeated criticism of House Democrats for rushing the proceedings without holding hearings. But she rejected arguments made by many other Republicans that Trump could not be removed because he has left office and said his conduct clearly met her standard to convict.

“My vote in this trial stems from my own duty to defend the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “The abuse of power and betrayal of his oath by President Trump meet the constitutional standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Collins was one of a few Republicans seen as potential votes to convict the president, alongside Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah. The latter was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump during his 2020 impeachment trial. 

Those four senators were among five Republicans to vote with Democrats to allow witnesses on Saturday. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina joined them in the ultimate conviction vote.

The Maine senator criticized Trump after the riot, saying that same day that he bore responsibility for it. The former president was slow to condemn the rioters at the time, issuing a video message in which he also said the election was “stolen” and called rioters “special.” Collins signaled a potential conviction vote in the ensuing five weeks in other ways. 

At the end of the Clinton trial, she said the removal of a president should only come when one “injures the fabric of democracy.” The word “democracy” appeared six times in a Bangor Daily News Op-Ed after the riot. Later in January, she and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, condemned “threats to our democratic republic” in a Portsmouth Herald column.

Her Saturday vote was the coda to a complex relationship with Trump. She cast a deciding vote in 2017 to preserve the Affordable Care Act, which angered conservatives in Maine who later rallied to her cause after later votes for a Republican tax-cut package and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which set off the Democratic campaign against her in 2020.

LePage, the grassroots Republican standard-bearer who endorsed Collins then despite heavily criticizing in the past and is considering a 2022 run for governor, and a top official with the Maine Republican Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment on her vote.

Democrats praised the vote, but they also criticized her for past support of some Trump positions. Maine Democratic Party Chairman Drew Gattine said she “consistently chose her own political gain over her responsibility to Mainers and the health of our democracy.”

King, a second-term senator who caucuses with Democrats, voted for the second time to convict Trump on Saturday. In a lengthy statement, he said the country “cannot heal by granting Donald Trump a free pass for his harmful actions.”

“The only way that we can combat these lies and heal our nation is by embracing truth and accountability,” King said.

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...