WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans said lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff insulted them during the trial on Friday night by repeating an anonymously sourced report that the White House had threatened to punish Republicans who voted against President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who delivered closing arguments for the prosecution, was holding Republican senators rapt as he called for removing Trump from office for abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Doing anything else, he argued, would be to let the president bully Senate Republicans into ignoring his pressure on Ukraine for political help.
"CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, 'Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.' I don't know if that's true," Schiff said.
After that remark, the generally respectful mood in the Senate immediately changed.
Republicans across their side of the chamber groaned, gasped and said, "That's not true." One of those key moderate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, looked directly at Schiff, shook her head and said, "Not true."
"Not only have I never heard the ‘head on the pike’ line," Collins said in a statement, "but also I know of no Republican senator who has been threatened in any way by anyone in the administration."
On Saturday, Collins told NBC News, "I was very surprised. No one's made any such threat. None of my colleagues had heard of it...I was offended because it wasn’t true."
"But let me make clear that it's not going to have an influence one way or another, his saying it is not going to have an influence one way or the other on my decision making."
It wasn't immediately clear what impact, if any, Schiff's comment would have on upcoming votes on witnesses and the ultimate question of whether Trump should be removed from office. Democrats need support from at least four Republicans to win a vote on calling witnesses, and Schiff's arguments over three days were clearly aimed at persuadable GOP senators.
Hearing the Republican protests, and with an eye toward Collins, Schiff paused and said: "I hope it's not true. I hope it's not true."
But Republicans were already put off.
"That's when he lost me," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican moderate, said about Schiff's remark, according to her spokeswoman. She denied having been told what the network reported about the White House. Schiff's invocation of it, she added, "was unnecessary."
Collins, another moderate who is up for reelection this year, is one of the few Republican senators who has expressed an openness to calling witnesses in the impeachment trial.
When he finished his speech and the trial adjourned, GOP Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming made a beeline for her seat. Collins again shook her head and said, "No."
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters that the CBS report is "completely, totally false."
"None of us have been told that," he added. "That's insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.''