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Delay on confirmation necessary

October 2, 2018

There was more to weigh in last week’s hearings than the truthfulness of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses him of a drunken attempted rape when they were teenagers.

Also under the spotlight was the Senate’s process for confirming Kavanaugh. And that scrutiny laid bare that politics, not truth, drove the process. At least until not seeking truth was no longer sustainable politically. In a surprise move, Senate Republicans on Friday agreed to delay the process for a week to allow the FBI to reopen its background check of the nominee, an action President Donald Trump ordered at Senate request.

Amid conflicting reports over the weekend, there was indication that this reopened inquiry would be limited to four witnesses. The president tweeted there are no limits and the New York Times reported Monday that White House sources say the FBI will be allowed to talk to whomever it needs as long as this can be done in a week.

We welcome this. While any investigation is better than none and the FBI should be under the gun to do its work quickly, it should always have been given the freedom to talk to whomever it needs, including those who have contradicted Kavanaugh’s accounts. The FBI was reportedly restricted to talking to two friends of Kavanaugh when he was a teen, one friend of Ford’s and one of the other accusers. This would have left not interviewed far too many whose accounts could be valuable, including a third accuser.

The point is that further inquiry is absolutely necessary.

In the aftermath of the hearings Thursday, one common refrain from Kavanaugh’s defenders in the Senate has been that there has been no corroboration of Ford’s account. And that’s ironic, because Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, until his hand was forced, steadfastly refused to use the most effective means at his disposal to determine if that corroboration exists — a reopened FBI background check on the allegations that now come from three women.

Without that additional scrutiny, the hearings leave us where we’ve been all along — she said, he said.

The committee — in a purely partisan split — voted to recommend confirmation for Kavanaugh. Absent a sufficient FBI investigation, that shouldn’t have happened.

The renewed inquiry occurs because Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, after voting in committee to move the nomination forward, made it clear he would not vote for confirmation without further investigation. Moreover, it appears that other Republican senators — Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — share similar reservations.

Why is this reopened FBI background check necessary? Simply, with the allegations, there is more to check, but also because there exists a strong likelihood that one of the two — Kavanaugh or Ford — is lying. And this nomination should not move forward without Americans being as completely satisfied as possible that the person who would be their newest Supreme Court justice is ethical and truthful.

And if Ford is lying, she should be held accountable.

Partisan divides are already immense. A confirmation moving forward in the current state of uncertainty will only widen them.

If Kavanaugh’s denials are genuine, he should welcome additional, more complete scrutiny.

What if a reopened FBI background check is inconclusive? That’s quite possible since the alleged assault and other alleged behavior occurred decades ago. But — if no arbitrary limitations are imposed — at least a good faith effort to get the truth would have been attempted and senators can simply vote for who they most believe.

Is this an 11th hour attempt to stall the confirmation? No doubt, this process has been saturated with politics. Democrats clearly want to stall — long enough even for the midterm elections to occur, perhaps allowing them to win back the Senate. And Republican are driven by being so tantalizingly close to achieving a court likely tilted decisively conservative for decades.

But the truth is there has never been an 11th hour at work here. An FBI investigation could always be done quickly, as it was when Anita Hill made her explosive charges against Clarence Thomas in 1991. There is little lost and much potentially gained in delay. If the investigation moves us comfortably closer to certainty, perhaps what follows is some modicum of trust that the confirmation process is not irrevocably broken.

How these hearings have unfolded so far, that trust is absent. Putting a brake on this process was the absolute right thing to do.

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