Two key Republican senators demanded a delay in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation vote, saying the FBI should investigate claims of sexual assault leveled against the nominee.
The demand Friday by GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one-week FBI investigation before a full Senate vote puts the onus on President Donald Trump to reopen the FBI’s background investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Kavanaugh categorically denied it.
Minutes later, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters she backed Flake’s proposal. “I support an FBI investigation,” she said.
A holdout by two Republicans would leave the party short of the 50 votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh on party lines. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has been viewed as a possible vote in favor of Kavanaugh, said in a statement that Flake’s plan for an FBI investigation was “right and fair.”
Trump told reporters at the White House, “I will be totally reliant on Grassley and what he decides to do,” referring to Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.
Asked whether he had a message for wavering Republican senators, the president said he had “no message.”
“They have to do what they think is right,” Trump said. “They have to be comfortable with themselves.”
Democrats have repeatedly demanded an FBI investigation since Ford’s allegation surfaced a few weeks ago, and they hammered at the issue throughout Thursday’s raucous Judiciary panel hearing where Ford and Kavanaugh testified.
Republicans who back Kavanaugh said there was no corroborating evidence for Ford’s allegation. Democrats pointed to the lack of an impartial investigation and the committee’s refusal to call witnesses who might be able to back up her claim, or to seek testimony from two other women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
Separately, former Kavanaugh classmate Mark Judge — who Ford says witnessed and encouraged the attack — said he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that investigates confidentially, the Associated Press reported. Judge had previously notified the Judiciary Committee in a letter that he didn’t want to testify in public.
The Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 on party lines Friday to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor.
Flake of Arizona, who had been undecided until Friday morning, announced his demand for an FBI investigation not long after announcing his support for Kavanaugh.
Flake said he would “only be comfortable moving on the floor until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already.” He added: “It may not take them a week. We owe them due diligence.”
Flake’s proposal was endorsed by GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, a strong Kavanaugh backer who said, “What Jeff is saying makes sense to me.”
“Somebody’s got to explain this to Trump. So, I guess that’ll be my job,” said Graham of South Carolina.
‘Need 50 Votes’
Asked whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would honor an agreement to delay a final vote on Kavanaugh, Graham said, “Last time I looked, you need 50 votes” to confirm him.
Flake and other Judiciary panel members went to McConnell’s office immediately after the meeting.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a top GOP backer of Kavanaugh, told reporters he thought an FBI investigation was “overkill” but that he was okay with the idea.
Grassley said at the committee meeting that he told Flake, “I would advocate for the position he took but I don’t control it.” After the committee meeting concluded, Grassley told top Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California the plan was “a gentlemen’s and women’s agreement.” Flake said he would make a request to the White House to direct the FBI to do the probe.
Democrat Chris Coons told reporters that Flake only struck the deal with Democrats “after having reassurances from some other senators in his party.”
Coons of Delaware said that after Flake announced his support for Kavanaugh earlier Friday, they had a private conversation and Coons said he told Flake, “I respect you as my friend, but I’m having difficulty with your vote. It became a much broader conversation.”
The White House will need to ask the FBI to re-open the background investigation, which hasn’t happened yet, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter.
The FBI also will need the White House to define the scope and parameters of the investigation, according to the official. The bureau could complete an investigation within a week, but the timeline ultimately depends on what is involved, such as the number of interviews that need to be done and whether newly uncovered information needs to be followed-up on, the official said.
Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said an FBI investigation “has to be more than a sham, and a charade.”
“What’s really needed now is a penetrating, complete, fair and impartial investigation by the FBI,” Blumenthal said, including an interview of Judge.
On Thursday the Judiciary committee heard Ford, a California psychology professor, testify that she’s “one hundred percent” certain Kavanaugh attacked her in 1982 when they were teenagers, describing in detail being held down on a bed at a drunken high school gathering. She described “uproarious laughter” by Kavanaugh and Judge, who has said he doesn’t recall such an incident.
Kavanaugh angrily, tearfully and “unequivocally” denied any wrongdoing involving Ford and other women who have made claims of sexual misconduct in recent days. He denounced his treatment as a political hit orchestrated by Democrats.
The American Bar Association and Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School where Kavanaugh earned his law degree, have called for a delay in Kavanaugh’s confirmation to allow an investigation.
This article was updated with additional information