AUGUSTA — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins urged Americans to react peacefully on Tuesday as former President Donald Trump was formally charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, a case the Maine Republican senator called “unprecedented in our history” while warning that “at every stage of the criminal proceedings, the stakes grow higher.”

“At this point my request to the people of this country, whether they are supporters or opponents of President Trump, is to react peacefully when the indictment is unsealed later today,” Maine’s highest-ranking Republican leader said Tuesday prior to the specific charges being revealed.

Collins made the comments while speaking to reporters after touring the under-renovation Colonial Theater in downtown Augusta.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, answers questions about former President Donald Trump’s indictment on criminal charges during an interview Tuesday at the Colonial Theater in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Trump, who is the first former president in the county’s history to face criminal charges, pleaded not guilty to the felony counts during a Tuesday afternoon arraignment in a lower Manhattan courtroom. Trump faces the counts following a grand jury indictment in connection with hush money payments to porn-film actress Stormy Daniels during Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Collins also suggested she would have anticipated that if Trump were to face legal consequences for something, it would have been for other matters, such as his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

“This is not the case I would have guessed would be brought against President Trump,” Collins said in response to a question earlier on Tuesday. “And certainly the fact that it’s unprecedented in American history to indict either a sitting or a former president gives me pause. But I want to see what the specifics are this afternoon.”

Collins also reiterated that Trump is not her first choice to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024, and cited others she sees as better choices.

“I’ve already made clear President Trump is not my choice for the Republican nomination,” she said. “I think we have many outstanding candidates. Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, Tim Scott, all of whom I know. Chris Christie — there are a lot of choices out there, and my hope is my party will choose one of those excellent choices.”

Unless questioned by reporters, Collins has largely avoided talking about Trump since he emerged as the Republican nominee for president in 2016. That year, Collins said she was “dismayed” by Trump’s rhetoric and would not vote for him for president. She famously said she hoped Trump had “learned his lesson” after she voted against convicting him following his first impeachment trial with Congress. Collins later voted to convict him after he was impeached a second time for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election.

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