Brett Kavanaugh’s future as a Supreme Court justice is now in the hands of the full Senate — but not without the FBI first investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman nearly three decades ago.
A day after he adamantly denied sexually assaulting a woman who testified she was “100%” sure he was her alleged attacker, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Kavanaugh’s confirmation amid a flurry of chaotic last minute negotiations.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called for a one week FBI investigation into allegations against the high court nominee before a final vote.
Democrats have repeatedly asked for such a probe as a political firestorm erupted around Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Republicans and President Trump have insisted it’s not necessary.
Trump, who has the sole power to ask the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh’s federal background investigation, said he was “going to let the Senate handle that.”
“I’m sure it will all be very good,” he added.
Senate Republican leaders agreed to the delay.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said, “There’s going to be a supplemental background investigation,” which would delay a vote “no later than one week.”
The Judiciary Committee was split 11-10 along party lines in a vote preceded by a chaotic morning fraught with emotion as protesters descended upon Capitol Hill and Democrats continued to voice their opposition to Republican efforts to speed up the process of confirming Kavanaugh.
Moments before the panel convened in the morning, Flake announced he would vote to advance the nominee. He said Kavanaugh, currently an appeals court judge, was entitled to the “presumption of innocence … absent corroborating evidence.”
He later huddled with Democrats in an anteroom off the main chamber ahead of the 1:30 p.m. vote. He emerged and said that he will not back Kavanugh’s confirmation in the full Senate without an FBI investigation and a week’s delay.
“We ought to do what we can to make sure we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake said. “This country is being ripped apart here.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) eventually backed Flake’s request, issuing a statement saying it will request the White House to call for an FBI probe.
Flake, who’s stepping down his post after this term, was confronted earlier by a pair of women who said they were rape survivors and passionately implored him to change his mind.
“You are telling me that my assault doesn’t matter.” one woman said through tears.
Several Democrats walked out of the committee meeting Friday morning in protest, but returned for the vote.
The heated political battle around Kavanaugh has raged as the future make-up of the Supreme Court precariously hangs in the balance. The conservative jurist who once worked for the George W. Bush White House could swing the court to the right for a generation.
The Republicans hold a tight 51-49 majority in the Senate and a small handful of moderate lawmakers could make all the difference.
While walking into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Friday afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), one of the key votes, said “yes,” when asked if she supports Flake’s proposal.
“Yes I do. It has to be limited in time and scope,” she said.
The dramatic vote unfolded a day after both Kavanaugh and psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the panel.
Ford insisted Thursday that she’s “100%” sure a drunken Kavanaugh assaulted her at a Maryland house party in 1982, when they were both in high school.
Ford’s testified that a drunken young Kavanaugh pinning her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and clasped a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. A friend of her alleged attacker stood by and she recalled “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Several other women have since come forward with similar claims.
Kavanaugh followed with a tearful and at-times aggressive rebuttal, refuting Ford’s claims and accusing Democrats of playing politics.
Trump on Friday called Ford’s testimony “credible” and “compelling” and indicated he has his doubts about the fate of his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“I don’t know if this is going to continue onward or if we’re going to get a vote,” he said.
If the FBI does reopen the background investigation, agents could interview accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details that could help corroborate or disprove the allegations.
Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. In her gripping testimony, Ford said Kavanaugh and Judge’s laughter during the incident has stuck with her nearly four decades later.
Judge has said he does not recall any such incident, and a Democratic motion Friday to subpoena him was blocked by Republicans in a vote. But he later said he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency investigating the assault claims, according to the Associated Press.
“What the FBI will do is to interview everyone involved, like Mark Judge for example,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told the Daily News. “They’re going to ask detailed questions and follow up on those and confront them with evidence. They’ll also gather information and run down leads such as ‘when did Mark Judge work at Safeway.’ ”
While the President and the majority of Republicans remained in his corner, several institutions were swift in either rescinding their support or backing the idea of an investigation into Kavanaugh’s past.
The American Bar Association pushed for a delay until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the idea Friday, telling reporters ahead of Flake’s proposal that Kavanaugh has already “been through six separate background investigations by the FBI.”
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States rescinded its endorsement, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and “should be withdrawn.”
“If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman’s report of an assault,” the America magazine editors wrote. “Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country.”