US Politics

Brett Kavanaugh to face FBI inquiry before Senate votes on his Supreme Court confirmation

Republican leaders agreed to delay the vote after two Republican senators, whose support is crucial, called for an FBI investigation, which was granted by President Donald Trump

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 1:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 5:57am

Republicans in the US Senate on Friday agreed to delay Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation vote to allow a one-week FBI investigation of sexual assault claims levelled against the nominee.

The scope of the investigation being sought wasn’t immediately clear. The second-ranking Republican, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, announced the delay. He said the chamber would take procedural vote on Saturday.

The move followed a demand on Friday by Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one-week FBI investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Kavanaugh has categorically denied it.

President Donald Trump said he has ordered the FBI to reopen its investigation into Kavanaugh over sexual misconduct allegations, but said the work must be done in less than a week.

The delay was announced near the end of a dramatic day. On Friday morning, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance the Kavanaugh nomination. Soon afterward, Flake – a member of the panel – called for an FBI investigation before a vote by the full Senate.

“I will vote to advance the nominee to the floor with that understanding,” Flake said.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, soon joined Flake in his request for a delay in the Senate vote, saying “I support an FBI investigation.”

The committee, with tempers flaring on both sides, met the morning after a jarring and emotional hearing that gripped the country, as Ford and Kavanaugh both testified.

One Republican, Senator John Kennedy, called Kavanaugh’s confirmation process “an intergalactic freak show”.

As the committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, set its vote on Friday morning, some Democrats left the room in protest. “What a railroad job,” Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono said.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Republican committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he found Thursday’s testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh “credible”, but added, “There’s simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us.”

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The timing of the panel’s session gave committee members little time to review Thursday’s extraordinary testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in 1982. Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations and accused Democrats of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit”.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, called Kavanaugh’s remarks unseemly for a judicial nominee.

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“This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent,” she said. “I have never seen someone who wants to be elevated to the highest court in the country behave in that manner. In stark contrast, the person who testified yesterday and demonstrated a balanced temperament was Dr. Ford.”

Another Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, noted that Grassley had thanked Ford for her bravery but nevertheless failed to back any further investigation.

“Where is the bravery in this room?” Klobuchar asked.

Flake, who had previously raised concerns about the allegations against Kavanaugh, said that Ford gave “compelling testimony” but that Kavanaugh provided “a persuasive response”.

Soon after Flake made his announcement, he was confronted in a lift while on his way to the committee meeting by two protesters who said they were sexual assault survivors.

“That’s what you’re telling all women in America – that they don’t matter, they should just keep it to themselves,” one of the protesters shouted at Flake in an exchange broadcast by CNN.

“I need to go to my hearing. I’ve issued my statement,” Flake said.

On Friday, Trump distanced himself from the fray slightly, saying that he found Ford's testimony compelling and that senators should do what they feel right.

A lawyer for Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh’s who was said to have been in the room during the alleged assault on Ford, told CNBC that Judge “will answer any and all questions posed to him” about the allegations against Kavanaugh.

The controversy has unfolded just weeks ahead of the November 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to seize control of Congress from the Republicans.

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If confirmed, Kavanaugh would consolidate conservative control of the nation’s highest court and advance Trump’s broad effort to shift the American judiciary to the right.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s confirmation could taint the Supreme Court, which prides itself on staying above the political fray.

“Voting to advance and ultimately confirm Judge Kavanaugh while he is under this dark cloud of suspicion will forever change the Senate and our nation’s high court. It will politicise the US Supreme Court,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said.

Democrats have urged a delay in the confirmation process to allow for an FBI investigation. The American Bar Association, which earlier endorsed Kavanaugh, and the dean of Yale Law School, which Kavanaugh attended, also called for an FBI inquiry, the first indication of the legal profession turning on the nominee.

Ford testified on Thursday she was “100 per cent certain” Kavanaugh assaulted her. Kavanaugh called himself the victim of “grotesque and obvious character assassination”.