Key Senators Express Satisfaction in FBI Report, Firming Up Kavanaugh’s Likelihood for Supreme Court

Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Christy Bowe/Globe Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

October 4, 2018

By Chris Megerian, Jennifer Haberkorn and Sarah D. Wire

WASHINGTON — Senators on Thursday began reviewing a confidential FBI report into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, as tensions built before a procedural vote scheduled for Friday that will likely signal whether he can be confirmed.

There were growing signs by midday Thursday that two wavering Republicans were satisfied with the FBI report, raising hopes at the White House that they were falling into line and would back Kavanaugh, ending what has become a bitter partisan battle over the future of the nation’s highest court in the #MeToo era.

A single copy of the hotly anticipated report, which the FBI produced in less than a week, was delivered to Capitol Hill before dawn Thursday and placed in a secure room. Democrats and Republicans took turns reviewing the contents, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they did not plan to release the report despite urging from both sides of the aisle.

A final vote on the nomination is expected on Saturday, but the results probably will be telegraphed early Friday with the procedural vote on whether to proceed.

After an explosive Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, FBI agents were given the task of performing a supplemental review to help senators determine if Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor, when they were high school students or exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez at a dorm room party when they were classmates at Yale University.

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied those allegations.

The White House ordered the FBI probe following demands from three Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona — who are key votes on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

If no Democrats vote for Kavanaugh, McConnell can afford only one defection from his own caucus. But the White House was feeling more confident after two of the wavering Republicans said they were pleased by the FBI review despite concerns from Democrats that it was incomplete.

“It appears to be a very thorough investigation,” Collins told reporters. Flake agreed, telling reporters on Capitol Hill that he saw “no additional” corroboration of the allegations against Kavanaugh in the report.

Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, have not announced their decision on Kavanaugh. Both face uphill reelection races in November in states that Trump won handily in 2016.

Manchin is considered more likely to buck his party and support Kavanaugh, but Democratic Senate sources said he is not expected to step forward as the deciding vote. That means Republicans probably need to find enough votes in their own ranks to get to 50.

The completion of the FBI report led to a new round of partisan bickering. Republican leaders said the report shows no incriminating information about Kavanaugh, who sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement.

Democrats insisted the FBI probe was short-circuited and incomplete.

“The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters. “It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited.”

Trump said it would be impossible to appease Democrats. “This is now the 7th. time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh,” he tweeted. “If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats.”

FBI background checks usually do not examine events before a nominee turns 18, which is when Ford alleges she was assaulted by Kavanaugh. She said that in the summer of 1982, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17, he and a friend drunkenly pushed her into a room at a party and he climbed on top of her, covering her mouth when she tried to shout for help.

The FBI investigation appears to have been circumscribed from the beginning. White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told CNN early Thursday that the Republican-controlled Senate provided the FBI with only four names for people to interview to start the investigation, far short of the two dozen suggested by Democrats.

Ultimately 10 people were contacted, Shah said.

Neither Ford nor Kavanaugh, who both gave extensive testimony under oath to the Senate committee, was questioned, prompting complaints from Ford’s lawyers.

“We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth,” Ford’s lawyers said in a statement.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News that “the idea that the FBI needs to interview her again is ludicrous.”

The people complaining the loudest, Sanders said, had already decided to vote against Kavanaugh.

“They don’t actually want more information,” she said. “It’s a total sham.”

———

©2018 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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