Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins both accused President Trump on Friday of potentially eroding public confidence in this month’s election, but chose starkly different tones that reflect the partisan differences over Trump’s unprecedented actions.

King said Trump’s attempts to convince state officials to override election results were “a direct threat to the fundamental premise of American democracy” as the president’s lawyers repeatedly fail to produce evidence of widespread fraud.

“This man has no thoughts whatsoever about the integrity of our system, the best interests of the country or the best interests of the people of this country,” King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in an interview. “He is willing to take down the democratic system in order to hang onto power.”

Collins, a Republican elected to her fifth term this month, released arguably her strongest-worded statement to date on the Trump team’s tactics to reverse President-elect Joe Biden’s clear electoral advantage. But while Collins was more forceful than many Republicans, she did not go as far as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who said Thursday it was “difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”

U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins

“There is a right way and a wrong way for the incumbent president to pursue his rights to contest what he perceives as election irregularities,” Collins said in a statement. “The right way is to compile the evidence and mount legal challenges in our courts. The wrong way is to attempt to pressure state election officials. That undermines the public’s faith in our election results without evidence and court rulings to support the allegations. The states should proceed to certify their election results as scheduled.”

King and Collins made the comments on a day when Trump summoned Michigan’s two top legislative leaders, both Republicans, to the White House for a meeting. Trump and his allies are trying to convince elected officials as well as judges in Michigan to overturn the election results – despite Biden winning by more than 150,000 votes – and instead appoint Republican electors who will support him.

Trump’s efforts appeared to fail when the two lawmakers issued a statement following the meeting indicating that they were unswayed by the president’s claims so far.

None of the recounts or major legal challenges across the country have gone in the president’s favor, to date. That’s largely because Trump’s team has yet to produce any evidence of the type of widespread voter fraud needed to “steal” the election, as the president has repeatedly characterized his loss.

King, a Biden supporter under consideration to be the president-elect’s top intelligence adviser, said that the Trump campaign’s “allegations become wilder and wilder. Hugo Chavez seems to be reaching back from the grave to affect our elections.”

The reference to the late socialist Venezuelan leader stems from entirely unfounded suggestions by Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that computerized voting systems used software developed by Chavez’s government to help him win elections and had been manipulated to hurt the president, despite the fact that the platform is used in states that went for Trump as well as Biden.

King said the president and his allies “have no evidence so they are throwing sand in the air, hoping to convince states to not declare the election.” The former two-term Maine governor added that Trump crossed a key line by attempting to pressure elected officials in Michigan and other states to overturn the voting results.

“That is a direct threat to the fundamental premise of American democracy,” said King, who is serving his second term in the Senate. “The first three words of the U.S. Constitution are ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the states’ or ‘We the corporations.’ It is ‘We the people’ and the people have spoken, they have voted.”

Both King and Collins have said that Trump – or any presidential candidate – has a legal right to challenge questionable results or raise legitimate concerns about potential fraud.

“I think it’s a pretty apparent that President-elect Biden has won the election, but nevertheless I know that the president and others have questions about the results in certain states and there is a process that exists to challenge the results,” Collins said on WGAN radio last week. “And consistent with that process, the president should be afforded the opportunity to do so.”

Some polls have shown a growing number of Republicans – including 77 percent of Trump backers participating in a Monmouth University survey – believe Biden was elected because of fraud. King said those perceptions are growing because of the fiery rhetoric and unsubstantiated allegations from the president and his team.

“Without presenting any evidence, all you are doing is undermining people’s confidence in the election process, and that is extremely dangerous,” King said.

Republican leaders in Congress as well as many Republican members have yet to distance themselves from the president and continue to support his election challenges. That support could be weakening, however, particularly in the wake of Thursday’s lengthy news conference in which Giuliani and other Trump surrogates levied a host of unfounded allegations as well as Trump’s attempts to intervene in how states award presidential electors.

In a post on Twitter, Romney said Trump appeared to be resorting to “overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election.”

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, another Republican, also was critical of Giuliani.

“Rudy and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute,” Sasse said on Twitter. “We are a nation of laws, not tweets.”

And in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Friday, conservative Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a reliable Trump supporter, suggested the president’s attorneys need to start producing evidence.

“This is not the time for politicians or press conferences,” Cotton told the Fox program. “That was during the election. This is a time for evidence in court.”

Collins and King, who both serve on the 15-member Senate Intelligence Committee, also reiterated that the Trump administration needs to cooperate with Biden on a transition.

Trump has directed staff within his administration not to work with the Biden team, denying the former vice president classified briefings, access to diplomats and world leaders, as well as information on plans to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. The latter was particularly concerning to King, given the surging rate of infections and deaths across the country, including in Maine.

King said blocking Biden’s access to that planning information “is going to cost people’s lives,” because even a delay of a week in distributing vaccines is critical at a time when more than 1,000 people are dying from the disease daily. King added that he can see no other rationale for the transition obstruction “other than personal pique and petty resentment.”

Added Collins in her statement Friday: “The President-elect should be receiving the briefings, office space, and access to government resources he needs to be ready to govern on Inauguration Day.”

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