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Susan Collins’ unfortunate response to the classified docs scandal

Sen. Susan Collins seemed like the sort of Republican who might condemn the Mar-a-Lago scandal in no uncertain terms. Alas, that hasn't happened.


For a brief period, it seemed like Sen. Marco Rubio might be a rare Senate Republican willing to take Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago scandal seriously. He's not only the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he also has a track record of questioning Trump’s ability to handle classified secrets.

But the Floridian’s partisanship got the better of him. Rubio this week downplayed the controversy as a “storage” issue, which was every bit as foolish as it sounded.

Perhaps Sen. Susan Collins would do better? The Maine Republican is, after all, less conservative than her GOP colleagues, and she’s a longtime member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who knows how dangerous it is to take highly sensitive secrets and refuse to give them back. What’s more, she just won another term in a bluish state two years ago, and need not worry about a partisan backlash.

So, maybe Collins will be the first GOP senator to publicly denounce the former president’s apparent misconduct? Alas, no.

HuffPost asked several senators this week whether they would take secret documents home with them. The Maine Republican responded that she didn’t “have the facilities to do so nor the authority” to keep top-secret information at home, but added, “That’s different from a president. I don’t have any authority to deem something classified or unclassified.”

It was a disappointing response in large part because Trump — a private citizen with no power — also doesn’t have the authority to deem something classified or unclassified. The former president has suggested that he somehow took such steps before leaving office, but as Collins probably ought to know, several former administration officials, including Trump’s own former attorney general, have dismissed such talk as ridiculous, and Trump’s lawyers have noticeably taken care not to include such claims in any of their court filings.

The Hill added this report on Wednesday:

“Of course I’m concerned there are classified documents,” said Collins, though she added there is much that remains unknown. “All we have are unsubstantiated leaks and that’s why I strongly support the request of the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee for us to have full access to all the documents that were retrieved,” Collins said.

But we’re not just relying on “unsubstantiated leaks.” That’s clearly not “all we have.”

On the contrary, there have been a great many devastating disclosures by way of Justice Department court filings — documents, it’s worth noting, that reached the public because of Team Trump’s own legal strategy — and those fully substantiated disclosures paint an extraordinary picture of a former president who took some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets to a glorified country club, refused to give them back, and allegedly obstructed the retrieval process.

There’s even an actual photograph, taken by FBI officials during their search of Mar-a-Lago, showing classified cover sheets that Trump wasn’t supposed to have.

There’s nothing “unsubstantiated” about this, and it obviously wasn’t a “leak.”

To his credit, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney came closer to getting this right, telling The Hill, “It’s stunning, it’s outrageous that highly sensitive documents of the United States of America were kept in an insecure place. That’s why we have laws to prevent it.”

Romney added that whether a criminal prosecution is warranted “will be up to the prosecutors.”

Update: This post has been edited for clarity.