President Donald Trump on Friday directed the FBI to launch a new investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a statement, Trump said the updated investigation, which follows sexual misconduct allegations, “must be limited in scope” and “completed in less than one week.”
The decision is a reversal for the administration, which had argued that Kavanaugh had already been vetted.
The Judiciary Committee voted to send the nomination to the full Senate after securing a vote in favor of the nod from Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, who had requested the delay and additional background investigation of Kavanaugh. Before voting, Flake consulted with Democrats, who repeatedly had demanded that the FBI investigate the allegations.
Ultimately, the vote by the committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats was along party lines.
“I’m not expecting them [Democrats] to vote ‘yes’ but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred,” Flake said. “This country is being ripped apart here and we’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence. I think this committee has done a good job, but I do think that we can have a short pause and make sure that the FBI can investigate.”
The committee vote followed a day of dramatic testimony by the Kavanaugh, an appellate judge, and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who has accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers in 1982. Both told their stories to the Judiciary Committee separately in lengthy hearings.
Kavanaugh has angrily denied the allegation that he sexually assaulted Ford at a gathering at a home in suburban Washington.
Kavanaugh needs at least 50 votes to be confirmed by the 100-member Senate. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote if the Senate is evenly split. If all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, two Republicans would also have to do the same to block his confirmation.
Shortly after Flake announced his support of moving the Kavanaugh nomination to the full Senate, Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana said he would vote against the appellate court judge. Donnelly said Ford’s sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh was “disturbing and credible,” and he repeated the Democrats’ call for the FBI investigation.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, a state that voted heavily for Trump, backed Flake’s call for additional FBI investigation. “We need to get politics out of this process and allow an independent law enforcement agency to do its job,” she said.
Senator Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, also a state Trump won by a wide margin, said Thursday he was voting “no” on Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of swing state Florida also said Thursday he would vote against Kavanaugh. Republicans are trying to gain the vote of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another state that Trump won comfortably, along with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Bar Association calls for full background check
The American Bar Association late Thursday called on the Judiciary committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI has time to do a full background check on the claims made by Ford and other women.
“We make this request because of the ABA’s respect for the rule of law and due process under law,” the ABA letter to committee leadership said. “Each appointment to our nation’s highest court [as with all others] is simply too important to rush to a vote.”
Earlier Friday, committee Chairman Charles Grassley flatly dismissed the ABA’s request, saying, “I’ve explained many times an FBI investigation is not necessary. The ABA is an outside organization like any other that can send us letters and share their advice, but we’re not going to let them dictate our committee’s business.”
Shortly after the committee convened Friday, it voted 11 to 10 along party lines to reject a motion by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed the alleged sexual assault.
“We have a responsibility to subpoena at the very least Mark Judge before we move to vote,” Blumenthal said. “It is our constitutional duty to do everything we can to uncover the truth after hearing yesterday that compelling testimony from Dr. Blasey Ford and we cannot vote in good conscience without hearing at least from Mark Judge.”
Before the motion was voted down, Grassley read from a letter that he received Thursday night from Judge in lieu of testimony.
“When I told the committee that I do not want to comment about these events publicly as a recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. As a result I avoid public speaking.” Judge’s letter went onto to say, “I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony.”
“That letter is no substitute for an FBI interview,” Blumenthal said.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also called for an FBI probe and said Friday that Kavanaugh had the opportunity to do the same at Thursday’s hearing to clear his name.
“Judge Kavanaugh could have easily said, ‘Mr. President, for this to move forward, I want to at least clear my name but mostly I want to have the American people know whether this is true or not.’ He could have done that. Why didn’t he do it? Because they are afraid of what they will find out.”
“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”
Kavanaugh cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has affected his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He said they did not include the party. He said he welcomes whatever investigation the committee wants but would not directly answer whether he would seek an FBI probe.
Kavanaugh acknowledged a love for drinking beer, but he also pointed to what he said were his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.
Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.
Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor chosen by Republican members of the committee to question Ford on their behalf, asked her about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.
Trump stands by nominee
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Following Friday’s development, Trump told reporters at the White House that he thought Ford’s testimony was very compelling, adding, “She looks like a very fine woman to me.” He also said that Kavanaugh’s testimony, likewise, was “really something that I haven’t seen before,” describing it as “an incredible moment” in the history of the country.
When asked if he would consider replacing Kavanaugh, Trump said, “Not even a little bit.” He said the Senate has to do what it thinks is right.
Earlier, Trump tweeted that Kavanaugh’s testimony showed America why the judge was nominated.
“His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is, disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!” Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.
A senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is not clear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.
“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail…and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.” (VOA)