Sen. Susan Collins reflects on the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh and what factors determined her vote. From her interview with FOX News host Martha MacCallum on Thursday:
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: One of the most riveting stories of 2018 was clearly the confirmation of now Justice Bret Kavanaugh. What seemed like a smooth path to the bench was rocked by 30 year old allegations of sexual misconduct when a letter surfaced months after it was sent to Capitol Hill.
The vote was to be razor tight and in the end it came down to one woman. Senator Susan Collins from Maine, she voted yes and gave a speech that was heralded as one of the best ever in the history of the deliberative body.
But the untold story here is what Susan Collins endured on the way to that moment. She shared details with us that she has never spoken of before; including men in hazmat suits sent to her home after one envelope was discovered that could have contained ricin and another with white powder and a chilling note.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): There was an envelope that arrived a few days after the ricin envelop and letter that had white powder in it. And fortunately the postal service inspector did a great job at intercepting it.
And you have to treat everything like that seriously. It said, "Anthrax; ha, ha, ha." And it was a very difficult time. My husband and our dog and parts of our house had to be quarantine.
And hazmat teams brought in. But what was even worse was what was done to my staff. They had to be subjected to all sorts of abuse. A 25-year-old case worker on my staff who deals with social security problems and the VA and immigration answered a call in which the man told her that if I voted yes for Justice Kavanaugh that he hoped that she would be raped and impregnated.
And unfortunately, I’ve lost that staff. She just could not take the tremendous abuse that was heaped upon them.
MACCALLUM: Yes. I listened to some of the phone call messages that you received. We’re just going to play a bit of one of them so people can get a sense of just how brutal the treatment of you was and it will be -- it will be bleeped out. But here -- here’s part of it.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: You are so (inaudible) naïve. You will go down in history as the most naïve person ever to be in Congress.
MACCALLUM: It’s just -- it’s unbelievable that the rage in these people’s voices.
COLLINS: It was unlike anything I have seen in all the years that I’ve been privilege to serve in the Senate. There was night I was working very late on the Kavanaugh nomination. I drove myself at 9:30 at night.
Couldn’t find a parking space, had to park a block away and there was a man who had been waiting there for me in the pouring rain and dark. I look around the streets, there’s nobody else out.
And he follows me to my house, starts screaming at me, shines a flashlight in my eyes. Turns on a cam recorder and it was -- it was frightening. The only funny thing about it when I finally said to him as I’m frantically trying to unlock my door, and I said you stop harassing me.
And by the way, what’s your name. And he gave me his name. So the police we’re able to pick him up.
MACCALLUM: That was a good idea. (Inaudible) ask him. And so did you -- did they follow it up with him.
COLLINS: They did. But what I’ll never understand is why anyone would think that I would be intimidated by those tactics and that they would be successful in converting me or causing me to vote -- to vote against Judge Kavanaugh simply because I was threatened.
MACCALLUM: The fiercely contentious confirmation process for Judge Bret Kavanaugh. I want to take you back there and get your reaction.
COLLINS: The whole stage for this very dysfunctional circus that occurred in this nomination was set when Chairman Grassley tried to give his opening statement.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, R-IOWA: An exciting day for all of you here. And you’re rightly proud of the judge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, if -- if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.
COLLINS: And he was not even allowed to finish his opening statement before he was interrupted in what was clearly an orchestrated move by some of the democratic senators.
SEN. CORY BOOKER, D-NEW JERSEY: We are rushing through this process in a way that is unnecessary.
COLLINS: I think it’s a disservice to the United States Senate. We’re better than that and this not what the constitutional process of advice and consent is supposed to be about.
I can only hope that this represents rock bottom in what has been a steady decline in the dignity and decorum of the nomination process for Supreme Court nominees over the past three decades.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I was pushed on to the bed and Brett got on top of me. I believed he was going to rape me.
MACCALLUM: As the senator who had thoughtfully gone through the process and spoken with Brett Kavanaugh for hours and researched his background, what went through your mind when you saw that?
COLLINS: It was painful. It was heart wrenching. I believed her when she said she was terrified. But she mentioned four people who were there that night and I felt it was very important that we reopen the FBI investigation to hear what they said.
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I’ve never sexual assaulted anyone. Not in high school, not in college, not ever.
COLLINS: When I heard Brett Kavanaugh’s rejoinder to it, I heard a man with great anguish and anger who felt falsely accused. So I felt that Dr. Ford certainly had endured a sexual trauma or some sort of traumatizing incident that had upended her life but I did not find the evidence, any corroboration in fact that Brett Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her.
MACCALLUM: Some of your colleagues said that when they watched his reactions, they felt that his temperament was not appropriate for a Supreme Court Justice and they referred to moments like this.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-MINNESOTA: So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened.
KAVANAUGH: It’s -- you’re asking about -- yes, blackout. I don’t know, have you?
KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge, I just -- so you have -- that’s not happened. Is that you’re answer?
KAVANAUGH: Yes. And I’m curious if you have.
KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, Judge.
KAVANAUGH: Yes, nor do I.
MACCALLUM: Did you ever find his responses to be inappropriate in that hearing?
COLLINS: That was inappropriate. We have to remember that it wasn’t just Dr. Ford’s accusations but these outlandish accusations brought by Mike Avenatti and Julie Swetnick that accused him of drugging girls, teenage girls, so that he could participate in gang rape.
So I think the anger and angst that he felt and anguish about that made him less tempered than he should have been in that response.
MACCALLUM: What was it like -- you and Lisa Murkowski sort of always seem to fall onto that basket of the moderate republicans that everyone looks to when these big votes happen. She decided that she could not be a yes.
COLLINS: We are very good friends. I had talked to her the morning of the vote -- of the first vote to invoke closure (ph). And then she was still undecided. We sit together on the Senate floor and she came on to the floor and sat down and she turned to me and I thought she said I’ve decided I can vote for him.
I misheard her. So I smiled widely and I said I’m so relieved that we came to the right conclusion and that we came to the same conclusion. And she said, you misheard me. I said I cannot vote for him. And I’m sure my face fell.
But it has not in any way affected our deep friendship and I respect her opinion even though I reached a different conclusion.
The politically charged atmosphere surrounding this nomination has reached a fever pitch.
MACCALLUM: I know you put a lot of time and thought into the speech that you gave and it got -- pretty much everybody stopped, I think, in the country and watched because they didn’t know what your final decision was and how you had decided to vote.
COLLINS: We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.
MACCALLUM: That line got a lot of attention.
COLLINS: Well, I felt so strongly that we were really at a critical point for our country. And if we -- the Senate confirmation process is not a trial but there are certain standards that we have to abide by.
And if we were going to throw overboard the presumption of innocence despite the complete lack of corroborating evidence, even from Dr. Ford’s best friend, and if we were going to dispense with fairness, the rule of law and due process; I really feared for what our country would become and whether anyone would be willing to put their name forth for public service. Who would go through that?
MACCALLUM: Have you spoken with him since you gave your famous speech?
COLLINS: I have not. I’ve gotten one text message from him right after it in which he said that he would work hard to make me proud and the American people proud.
MACCALLUM: Do you think it is rock bottom. I mean as Claire McCaskill said, and I think she was sending a message perhaps to her fellow democrats that -- that this isn’t getting us anywhere folks.
COLLINS: I was so glad when Claire spoke up because I think it hurt her. I think it hurt Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp who also lost their seats not because of their votes so much but because of the spectacle and the unfair treatment of -- of both Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Ford who asked specifically that her allegations be kept confidential and be handled in a closed session.
MACCALLUM: You went to St. Lawrence University, as did I. They -- a letter was circulated, 1500 something like that professors and alumni really wrote a skating (ph) letter saying they wanted to resend the two honorary degrees that they had given you at your university, which in the past had heralded you for your bipartisan decisions.
COLLINS: It was a very painful experience because I loved my time at St. Lawrence. When I was at St. Lawrence, free and open debate was encouraged. Diverse viewpoints were welcomed and I could not help but think what has happened.
And are students who have more conservative viewpoint discriminated against by professors who say there’s only one way to think. Did they not respect the process that I went through, which I think everyone would concede was extremely thorough.
And it made me wonder if our liberal arts colleges are no longer bastions of free speech where people can engage in health debate and bring differing viewpoints to the table. That’s what a liberal arts college and education is supposed to be all about. And that’s what it was like at St. Lawrence when I was there and I learned so much because of that.
MACCALLUM: What are your thoughts on the Me Too movement?
COLLINS: The Me Too movement has been very important for our country. It’s needed and has helped to heighten awareness and I hope that there’s anything good that has come out of this terrible process, it is that the survivors of sexual assault will feel more empowered to come forward and they’ll come forward at the time of the incident and that they will be heard.
Not everyone is going to be giving an accurate story. But everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
MACCALLUM: It could potentially cost you your election in 2020. Are you at peace with that?
COLLINS: I am. The easier vote, politically, clearly would have been for me to vote no. But that would not have been the right vote. And I have to live with myself and I want to be able to look in the mirror in the morning and know that I did what I felt was right, no matter what the consequences may be.
My job as the United States Senator is to apply my best judgment and that’s what I did in this case despite tremendous pressure, horrible tactics, abuse of my family, my staff, and myself. But I -- I really won’t ever be intimidated. I have to do what I think is right and I’ll let the chips fall where they may.
MACCALLUM: My thanks to Susan Collins for sitting down with me this week.