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Sen. Susan Collins working with 'small group' of Republicans to ensure witnesses at Trump's trial

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By Dareh Gregorian  with NBC News Politics
Image: Capitol Hill security briefing on developments with Iran after attac
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives for a briefing at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020.   -   Copyright  Al Drago Reuters

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Friday that she's been working with "a fairly small group" of Republican senators to make sure witnesses can be called in President Donald Trump's impending Senate impeachment trial.

"We should be completely open to calling witnesses," Collins told reporters in Bangor, Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported. She declined to say who or how many GOP lawmakers she's been working with, but said "I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president's counsel if they choose to do so."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he plans to follow the model that was used in President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. In that case, the two sides made opening arguments and took questions from senators before there was a motion to either dismiss the case or hear from witnesses. In the Clinton case, the motion to dismiss failed, and senators wound up taking videotaped depositions of three witnesses, portions of which were played at the trial.

McConnell has said he's working in "total coordination" with the White House on the trial, leading Democrats to charge that the majority leader plans to hold "sham" proceedings. Numerous Republican senators have said they don't see a need for witnesses to testify, despite former national security adviser John Bolton's recent offer to do so if subpoenaed.

Collins, a moderate Republican who is up for re-election this year, hascriticized McConnell for his comments about working with the White House, and previously said she's "open" to calling witnesses. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has said he'd "love to hear" what Bolton has to say. Bolton's lawyer has said he has pertinent information about the White House's dealings with Ukraine that has not been disclosed publicly.

Other moderate Republicans have sidestepped questions about potential witnesses, but just a handful peeling away could be the deciding factor. Republicans would need 51 votes to dismiss the case, and Democrats would need 51 votes to call witnesses. Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate.