Senate Republicans expressed confidence that nothing in a supplemental FBI investigation prompted by sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh will derail the Supreme Court nominee, as they press ahead with plans for a make-or-break Friday test vote.
“There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know,” Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday as senators are viewing the report in private.
Democrats are criticizing the probe as a whitewash as the White House said investigators interviewed nine people — far short of the dozens of potential witnesses offered to the FBI by two Kavanaugh accusers.
The FBI didn’t interview Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford, one of his accusers, because it didn’t have clear authority from the White House to do so, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
President Donald Trump, who was briefed on the findings of the report Thursday, signaled support for his nominee, decrying “harsh and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh in an early morning tweet.
The White House’s position indicates a push from Kavanaugh’s backers for quick action on the nomination, which has verged on collapse at times by the weight of mounting sexual misconduct allegations.There will now be even more pressure on undecided Republican senators ahead of the test vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. If the nominee’s supporters prevail in that vote, Kavanaugh could be confirmed this weekend to the nation’s highest court.
“All senators will be able to review the report” delivered early Thursday by the FBI, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said in a statement.
Top Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California didn’t speak to reporters as she left the secure room where senators are viewing the report. On Wednesday, the California senator said in a statement that a lack of FBI interviews with Kavanaugh and Ford “raises serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation.”
Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy said on Twitter that with each senator being given one hour to review the report before a “rushed vote,” the confirmation process controlled by Republicans is “just about power politics.”
The announcement of the vote came after some Republican senators expressed dismay over Trump’s mockery of two of the women who have come forward with claims against Kavanaugh.
Ford’s attorneys said in a statement that they were “profoundly disappointed” in the probe.
“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation,” they said, adding that “those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah defended the investigation to reporters Thursday morning, saying “of course we were and of course we have been” seeking the truth in the matter. He said Ford and Kavanaugh had an “opportunity to tell in a very detailed and comprehensive fashion the Senate their testimony” and that the administration was “fully confident after reviewing this information senators can be comfortable voting yes.”
Shah wouldn’t identify the nine people interviewed by the FBI, which reached out to 10 people. He said other witnesses — like a former Kavanaugh classmate at Yale who told the New Yorker his outreach to the FBI had been ignored — lacked “firsthand knowledge” and therefore would not “be deemed as very credible in a process like this.”
Democrats criticized the limited scope of the FBI investigation. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois told CNN on Thursday it was unacceptable for the FBI to interview only a “handful” of people, given the “gravity” of the case.
Shah said the White House had been in regular contact with senators on the fence about Kavanaugh’s nomination, and that outreach would continue in coming days.
Speaking Tuesday night at a rally in Southaven, Mississippi, Trump attacked the credibility of Ford, who last week testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted her during a high school party in Maryland more than 30 years ago.
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The president, who days ago said Ford’s testimony was “very credible,” ridiculed her memory to cheers from the audience.
“How did you get there? I don’t remember. Where was the place? I don’t remember,” Trump said, mocking Ford’s answers during last week’s hearing.
At the Mississippi rally, Trump also turned his ire on Julie Swetnick, who claims Kavanaugh took part in efforts at parties during high school to get girls intoxicated so that groups of boys could have sex with them.
“This woman had no clue what was going on, and yet she made the most horrible charges,” Trump said.
Kavanaugh has strongly denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.
Trump’s remarks drew a rebuke Wednesday from Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who forced the additional FBI inquiry into the accusations by threatening to withhold his vote for confirmation.
Flake said the comments were “kind of appalling” in an interview with NBC News. “There is no time and no place for remarks like that,” Flake said. “But to discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right.”
Another undecided Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, was asked whether Trump’s comments would affect her decision on whether to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“I am taking everything into account and I think the comments by the president yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate,” Murkowski said.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who also has yet to declare her stand on the nomination, was also critical of Trump.
“The president’s comments were just plain wrong,” she said in a statement.
Despite Trump’s assertion on Monday that “the FBI should interview anybody that they want, within reason,” confusion beset the investigation, fed by conflicting signals over what constraints had been placed on the bureau.
The White House has indicated to the FBI that the testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford before the Judiciary Committee last week was sufficient, said the two people, who asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive matter.
A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House viewed the inquiry as a supplemental background investigation, with its scope limited to the sex-assault allegations. On Monday, three days into the investigation, the White House gave the FBI approval to interview more people, but the bureau was still constrained by an initial directive to investigate only credible allegations of sexual misconduct, one of the people said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray is documenting what’s happening behind the scenes in order to help ensure the bureau’s activities in the politically charged investigation are captured and perhaps made public one day, the person added.
The FBI declined to comment on the investigation or its timing.