To pull back the impeachment curtain, Conn. Senator Chris Murphy takes to Twitter

Boston Globe

WASHINGTON — Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was squeezing in his weekly grocery shopping Sunday night on his only day off from the impeachment trial when he saw his phone light up.

It was a text from Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, a fellow Democrat, about former national security adviser John Bolton’s explosive account linking President Trump to a quid pro quo in the Ukraine controversy at the heart of the impeachment case. Standing in the cereal aisle, Murphy read the article with his mouth agape.

That private impeachment moment became public when Murphy tweeted about Monday. It was part of his effort to let his over 884,000 Twitter followers inside the life of a senator through daily, lengthy threads during only the third ever impeachment trial of a US president.

Before the six-day-a-week sessions began, Murphy pledged to use Twitter to give people a peek behind the curtain of history. Other senators have taken to social media to deliver their takes on the trial, but the posts by Murphy have a decidedly personal tone. He’s tweeted about apologizing to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for his bad cough, panicking that the trial would resume from a break while he was on air with MSNBC, and forgetting to leave his phone outside the chamber.

“It was only for a few minutes before I realized my mistake (and I didn’t turn it on),” he tweeted about his violation of Senate cellphone rules. “I may be in Senate prison by tomorrow, but I feel better having admitted my crime.”

Murphy’s not close to the same level of congressional Twitter fame as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York with 6.2 million followers or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 9 million followers, but Murphy has gained 30,000 followers since the start of the impeachment trial.

“Social media is such a unique tool to give folks a real-time sense of what it’s actually like to do this job,” Murphy said Thursday. “These days, politicians are caricatures — people don’t think we’re actual human beings, so I think it’s important to use social media to make folks recognize that there’s humanity and real life involved in everything we do.”

Murphy tweets about Trump’s defense team and the House managers’ case. He gives his opinion on calling witnesses and posts about what he tells reporters in the halls during breaks. But he also tells his followers what he observes on the Senate floor and how he’s feeling about the long hours in the chamber.

“You could hear a pin drop as Ken Starr has the gall to lecture the Senate on how the ‘age of impeachment’ has been so dangerous for America,” Murphy tweeted Monday night. “Mouths hang open on the Democratic side. A famous Alanis Morissette song rattles around in my head.”

After the first day of the trial last Tuesday, Murphy posted his daily thread at 2 a.m about how his seat in the front row of the chamber means he’s "right on top of the impeachment managers.”

“...my first thought is that I’m going to be spending a lot of time looking at the back of Rep. Jason Crow’s head for the next 2 weeks," he tweeted.

Senators aren’t allowed to have their phones in the chamber during the impeachment trial, so Murphy said he does all of his tweeting at the end of the day when he gets back home or to his office. He said he takes notes during the trial of things that he wants to tell people about later, but is “very cognizant” that some things said in the chamber are not meant to be made public.

“I haven’t really detailed any conversations that I’ve had with other senators because I think there are some confidential conversations that I need to keep to myself,” he said. “I’ve tried to create a balance between sharing stuff that truly is behind the scenes without violating any confidences."

Although Murphy said he tries to be active on Twitter all the time, he sees impeachment as an especially “important moment for people to get a sense of what it’s like inside the room.”

“If giving people a little bit of a behind-the-scenes view of what this looks like keeps people interested, maybe they’ll stay interested in civic discourse after the trial,” he said.

Murphy often tweets about his neighbor on the Senate floor, Warren, who took office the same day as he did in January 2013, and sits at the desk next to him. One day, he broadcast to the world that Warren opted for milk instead of water and said he let her in on his “new impeachment trick” — unwrapping hard candies during a break and putting them in his desk drawer so he could sneak a few during the trial without making noise.

Murphy himself made a bit of noise in the impeachment case. He was at the center of the trial last Friday when House manager Representative Jason Crow of Colorado introduced information about Murphy’s meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in September during a congressional trip there as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a November 19 letter to House investigators, Murphy said he wanted to travel to Ukraine with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, after learning of the ongoing efforts by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family.

“I was there in September meeting with Zelensky in part because I was concerned about the pressure campaign that Giuliani was running,” Murphy said Thursday. “I was the first senator to raise any issues about the pressure campaign spring of last year.

He told his Twitter followers what it was like to have his name directly referenced a handful of times in the impeachment trial. Murphy tweeted about how his Senate colleagues asked him more about the trip during the breaks in the trial.

“I tell them how impressive Zelensky is as a real reformer, and how tragic it is that at the exact moment we had a guy we could work with, we cut his legs off,” Murphy tweeted.