Our D.C. Bureau Delay allows for FBI probe
WASHINGTON — Democrats breathed a little easier Friday after Republicans agreed to Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s demand for a week-long delay in Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, giving the FBI time to investigate allegations of sexual abuse.
But the breathing room in the Democrats’ months-long effort to defeat Kavanaugh may be short lived. An FBI probe that proves inconclusive could give Senate Republican leaders space to push forward on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Without an FBI-uncovered smoking gun, Republicans could argue they bent over backward to permit testimony from Kavanaugh’s main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as well as ordering up the investigation Democrats demanded — one that GOP senators had previously rejected as unnecessary.
But short-lived or not, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a Judiciary Committee member who questioned both Ford and Kavanaugh at Thursday’s epic hearing, said Friday that the FBI probe may be the last and best chance to get at the truth.
“I’m dealing with this one day at a time,” Blumenthal said after the committee voted 11-10 along party lines to pass the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor with the understanding that a confirmation vote would be delayed a week.
That gives the FBI time to investigate allegations from Ford and two other women, including former Yale classmate and ex-Shelton resident Deborah Ramirez, that Kavanaugh was sexually abusive.
“The test will be whether the investigation is real and penetrating and complete,” said Blumenthal. “I have some hope and perhaps confidence that the FBI will consider its professional integrity on line and won’t settle for a half-baked investigation. I’m not going to speculate on what happens if the FBI fails.”
Since allegations by Ford and the two other women surfaced earlier this month, Blumenthal and other Democrats have been calling for a delay in a confirmation vote for the 53-year-old conservative D.C. appeals court judge until an FBI probe takes place.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had insisted that an FBI probe was unnecessary because agents do little more than take witness statements, which committee staffers had essentially done already.
In often-belligerent testimony Thursday, Kavanaugh himself said he’d been subjected to numerous FBI background checks as a Supreme Court nominee, an appeals court nominee, and before that a staffer in the White House of George W. Bush.
And, he added, none of the potential witnesses named by Ford could corroborate her account of having been at a gathering in 1982 where Kavanaugh allegedly groped her and stifled her screams. He cited Leland Keyser, a close friend of Ford at the time, as stating that she does not remember such a gathering and has never met Kavanaugh.
But Keyser said in an interview with the Washington Post that while she doesn’t remember the incident, she believes Ford’s account.
The surprise switch by Flake, at the Judiciary Committee came hours after he was reported to be voting “yes” in the committee to approve the Kavanaugh nomination and pass it to the Senate floor. Blumenthal and other Democrats had been looking at Flake as a possible defector because of his moderate record, his decision not to seek re-election this year, and his frequent public battles with President Trump.
On Friday, Flake encountered a distraught woman in a Senate office elevator — a moment captured by TV cameras that soon went viral.
Judiciary members including Blumenthal gathered at a committee meeting that appeared to be little more than a formality aimed at passing along the Kavanaugh nomination with a favorable recommendation.
Instead, it broke down into spectacle of senators appearing at the dais, exiting, and then reappearing again as negotiations ensued backstage.
With the committee divided 11-10 in favor of the GOP minority, Republicans had little choice but to acquiesce in Flake’s demand for a week-long delay in a Senate floor vote to give the FBI time to investigate the allegations.
“Senator Flake has made very clear — and I appreciate it — that he wants to know more,” Blumenthal told reporters after the meeting adjourned. “And he believes this delay is the responsible step to take.”
Kavanaugh’s fate could well be in the hands of four undecided senators whose votes could tip the balance either way — Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Later on Friday, President Donald Trump himself authorized such an investigation. And the White House released a statement from Kavanaugh pledging that he would go along with the decision to delay confirmation.
At the dramatic Thursday hearing, Kavanaugh said, “I answered questions under oath about every topic the Senators and their counsel asked me. I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate.”
An unusually subdued Trump told reporters at the White House that while he continues to have faith in Kavanaugh, he too would go along with the delay and the probe.
“I’m going to let the Senate handle that,” he said. “They’ll make their decisions.”
Asked whether he was considering a replacement should Kavanaugh falter, Trump replied: “Not even a little bit.”