Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell avoids talking about former President Donald Trump, there continues to be bad blood between the two of them. McConnell blames Trump for the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building, and Trump has repeatedly called for Republicans to replace McConnell as GOP leader in the U.S. Senate.
Nonetheless, McConnell voted “not guilty” during Trump’s second impeachment trial — in contrast to Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was among the minority of Senate Republicans who wasn’t shy about voting “guilty.” And that wasn’t the first time they disagreed over a Trump impeachment.
These days, McConnell is supporting Murkowski’s reelection campaign. But according to journalists Rachel Bade and Karoun Demirjian’s forthcoming book, “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress' Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,” there was considerable tension between McConnell and Murkowski over how to handle Trump’s first impeachment and how many witnesses to call.
Reporting on Bade’s book in an article published by The Hill on October 6, journalist Alexander Bolton explains, “New revelations about what McConnell did behind the scenes to help Trump during his first impeachment trial shows the minority leader was one of Trump’s most effective Senate allies before their dramatic falling out after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. They also show that while McConnell is now supporting Murkowski’s reelection bid against a Trump-backed challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, just two years ago, the two senators were at loggerheads over how to respond to questions about Trump’s conduct and fitness for office.”
Trump was the only president in U.S. history who was impeached twice. The first impeachment occurred in 2019 because of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into helping him dig up dirt on now-President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. It is hardly uncommon for U.S. politicians to look for “opposition research” to use against a political opponent, but Trump, according to Democratic impeachment managers, crossed a dangerous line when he asked a foreign leader for opposition research against the Bidens — and withheld military aid to that country in the hope of getting it.
“The forthcoming book, ‘Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,’ reveals that McConnell leaned hard on Murkowski to vote against calling more witnesses at Trump’s impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,” Bolton reports. “Murkowski, at the time, said publicly she ‘was disturbed’ by McConnell’s pledge to work in ‘total coordination’ with Trump’s legal team and ‘take my cues from the president’s lawyers.’”
But the tension between Murkowski and McConnell, according to “Unchecked,” didn’t last. Ultimately, Murkowski voted “not guilty” on both articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That vote came down mostly along party lines, with Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah being the only Republican who was willing to vote “guilty” on either article. Romney voted “guilty” on abuse of power but “not guilty” on obstruction of Congress.
“McConnell later tried to mend fences with Murkowski, whom he knew would be a key Republican vote,” Bolton writes. “If she defected, the charges against Trump would have posed a huge political liability for the president and his party heading into the 2020 election. After returning to Washington after the recess, McConnell summoned Murkowski to walk over to him on the Senate floor and told her: ‘You and I are on the same page.’ He signaled he didn’t have lingering hard feelings by recalling how…. she also criticized Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for rushing the impeachment investigation.”