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Our D.C. Bureau Republicans push toward vote

October 5, 2018

WASHINGTON — Connecticut’s senators and fellow Democrats face an uphill climb to defeat Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, with Republicans using an inconclusive FBI report to try to push through confirmation of the 53-year-old embattled judge in the Senate.

“I’m going to continue working and fighting against the nomination,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that held confirmation hearings on Kavanaugh, said Thursday.

“It’s not over till it’s over,” he said.

In a conference call with reporters, Blumenthal called the FBI report “woefully incomplete and inadequate.”

“It’s a story of unfollowed leads, uninterviewed witnesses, unanswered questions,” he said. “It is, in a word, a whitewash, smacks of a cover-up.”

On the Senate floor, Sen. Chris Murphy, Blumenthal’s fellow Connecticut Democrat, spoke of being ushered into a “secure briefing room where I was force-fed a half-baked FBI investigation that I was told I had to read and digest in no more than an hour.”

“It was humiliating,” Murphy said. “I felt like I was 9 years old.”

Murphy was referring to the fact that only one copy of the FBI report on Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh was available in a secure room to all 100 U.S. senators.

Murphy and Blumenthal both were early opponents of Kavanaugh, based on their fear that he would, if confirmed, tip the court in a conservative direction and imperil decisions like Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, as well as the court’s 2012 affirmation of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare.

True or not, the Ford allegation underscored the weakness of Kavanaugh as a nominee for the nation’s highest court, Murphy insisted.

“Though I believe Dr. Ford, you frankly don’t even have to be sure she’s telling the truth to decide that the risk of nominating someone with these kinds of serious charges swirling around them is an unnecessary burden,” Murphy said. “If there’s a chance he did these things, just move on to the next eligible conservative candidate.”

Saturday showdown

Republicans brushed aside such reactions as the Senate’s GOP majority set the clock ticking toward an up-or-down confirmation vote on Saturday.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, said the report showed “no hint of misconduct” by Kavanaugh, who was also accused by Deborah Ramirez, who grew up in Shelton, of exposing himself while both were undergraduates at Yale in the 1980s.

“None of these last-minute allegations have been corroborated,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who set in motion a confirmation timetable that starts Friday with a crucial vote to end debate — cloture. If that succeeds, a full Senate confirmation vote would take place Saturday.

Whether McConnell has enough votes to win Kavanaugh’s confirmation remained uncertain Thursday, with only one of five undecided senators coming forward to announce a decision.

That senator, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, announced Thursday she would oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation. That left four senators — three Republicans and one Democrat — uncommitted.

Of the Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, said the investigation appeared to be “very thorough.”

Another undecided Republican, Jeff Flake, of Arizona, said, “we’ve seen no additional corroborating information.”

Flake’s qualms about the confirmation process had set the FBI report in motion last week, after a tumultuous Judiciary hearing in which Ford emotionally recounted her allegation of Kavanaugh being on top of her, trying to remove her clothing, and stifling her scream when they were in high school.

Kavanaugh, in his turn, served up and angry rebuttal, charging Democrats with destroying his legal-world reputation.

The two other undecideds, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, did not play their hands Thursday.

Blumenthal told reporters he believed all the undecided senators “really wanted an investigation and not a check-the-box sham, which is what we have here.”

He said he would attempt to reach out to both Collins and Flake before the final vote Saturday.

Probe criticized

Blumenthal insisted the report did not exonerate Kavanaugh.

“There’s more than a hint of misconduct,” he said, citing the FBI interview of Ramirez that Blumenthal described as “very powerful and convincing.”

Blumenthal, Connecticut’s former state attorney general as well as a former U.S. attorney in the state, said the FBI failed to interview dozens of witnesses whose names had been forwarded to agents, suggesting the White House deliberately constrained the investigation’s parameters.

The FBI did not interview either Ford or Kavanaugh, although both gave extensive sworn testimony at the follow-up Judiciary hearing on Sept. 27. But agents did interview Mark Judge, a close high school friend of Kavanaugh whom Ford identified as in the room with Kavanaugh during his alleged attack on her. Judge previously stated that he remembered neither the incident nor the social gathering at which it was alleged to have taken place.

Among those not interviewed was Kerry Berchem, of Fairfield, who was the subject of an NBC story saying that although Kavanaugh testified under oath that he learned of the Ramirez allegation when it was published in The New Yorker last month, he sent around text messages hoping to squelch her story well before that date.

Asked whether it was a contradiction to say the FBI report was inadequate while also saying it contained significant negative information on Kavanaugh, Blumenthal insisted the two were “complementary, not contradictory.”

“There were leads that should have been followed that the FBI simply didn’t follow because (agents were) straightjacketed,” he said.

Republicans pooh-poohed Democratic complaints as just another installment in their months-long effort to derail Kavanaugh, starting in July, when Trump nominated him.

“How did we end up where we are today?” said McConnell on the Senate floor. “Howe did we get from a chorus of expert praise and professional respect (for Kavanaugh) to wild tales of violent gangs, sexual assault rings, fistfights on boats in Rhode Island harbors and the possibility — get this! — of an argument in a college bar?”

McConnell was referring to a fight at now-closed Demery’s in New Haven, that erupted when Kavanaugh and friends exchanged angry words with a patron and Kavanaugh allegedly threw ice at him.

dan@hearstdc.com

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