The Senate is set for a critical Friday vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, teeing up a final vote by the weekend, with an FBI report on the sexual misconduct allegations against the judge expected in the chamber by Thursday morning.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night set up the critical procedural vote for Friday, saying on the floor that the Senate “will receive” the results of the FBI’s time-limited inquiry into the claims against President Donald Trump’s high court pick in the coming hours.
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Senators are expected to view that report from the FBI under restricted parameters throughout the day Thursday, with one copy of that report available for access in a secure facility in the Capitol basement. Members of both parties, as well as a handful of staff, are expected to alternate hour-long viewing time slots, a Democratic aide said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted early Thursday morning that the Senate had received the FBI’s additional investigation, outlining how the materials would be made available to lawmakers and staff. He wrote that the bureau’s report would be shared following parameters for a “loan agreement” of Executive Branch material to the Senate set out in a 2009 agreement between the Obama Administration and then-committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Grassley noted that Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is now the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, were on the committee at the time and did not object to the 2009 agreement.
White House spokesman Raj Shah also tweeted a statement in the early hours of Thursday morning, arguing senators have had ample time to review the material and noted Kavanaugh has already ungone several background investigations.
“This is the last addition to the most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history, which includes extensive hearings, multiple … committee interviews, over 1,200 questions for the record and over a half million pages of documents,” Shah wrote.
The FBI has not interviewed Kavanaugh’s initial misconduct accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, according to a member of her team, nor Kavanaugh — a controversial move that has angered Democrats and may yet alienate some key Republicans. Through her lawyers, Ford offered Wednesday to give the FBI therapist notes and information about her polygraph test that Grassley has requested, if she is interviewed.
“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 late Wednesday night.
Ford alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school in 1982, an explosive charge that’s at the heart of the scandal surrounding the Supreme Court nominee. Another Kavanaugh accuser, Deborah Ramirez, alleges that the federal appeals court judge exposed himself during a party when they were both students at Yale University.
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations from both women. The brief FBI probe was designed to look into the charges.
On Wednesday night, Durbin sent a letter to Grassley asking for the Judiciary Committee to correct two tweets that claimed previous background checks on Kavanaugh contained no issues of sexual misconduct or alcohol abuse.
Asked what more he could say about it, Durbin replied: “Nothing.”
“The Republican staff tweets are inaccurate,” Durbin said Wednesday night in an interview. When pressed about the implication of alcohol or sexual misconduct, he replied: “I can’t say anything. I’ll tell you they’re inaccurate and I don’t think they should have put them out.”
Republicans defended the tweets in question.
“The committee stands by its statement, which is completely truthful. More baseless innuendo and more false smears from Senate Democrats,” Judiciary panel Republicans said in a tweet.
If Friday’s expected procedural vote on the nomination is successful, a final vote on Kavanaugh could take place Saturday night at the earliest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is eager to install Kavanaugh onto the court quickly, given that its new term just began.
McConnell denied a request from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for an FBI briefing for all senators, calling it “unprecedented and irregular” and suggested Democrats would just use it as a pretext to delay the nomination. That means senators will be limited to the raw information of an updated FBI background investigation of Kavanaugh, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.
Grassley said earlier Wednesday that giving senators two days to view the document before they vote is “ample time.”Democrats, however, howled in consternation over constraints placed upon their access to the materials as well as on the abridged nature of the FBI inquiry — which appears to have delved only tangentially into Kavanaugh’s drinking habits and whether he may have misled senators about them during testimony last week.
GOP Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), asked for a one-week delay in the Kavanaugh nomination so the FBI could review the Ford and Ramirez allegations. GOP leaders agreed to that delay when it became clear that they could muster 50 votes to press forward with the nomination.
Flake said on Wednesday afternoon that he’s comfortable voting as long as he has the FBI report beforehand.
In an extraordinary session, Ford testified for four hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. Grassley and other panel Republicans have said they found her testimony credible and believe she was sexually assaulted, yet they doubt Kavanaugh was involved.
With so much at stake, President Donald Trump and other Republicans backing Kavanaugh are stepping up their attacks on Ford, whose sexual abuse allegations are at the heart of the scandal.
But the harsh criticism of Ford from Trump and Kavanaugh supporters could backfire, alienating the handful of undecided senators who control the fate of Kavanaugh’s nomination. Flake said Trump’s remarks at a Tuesday rally were “kind of appalling.” Collins joined Flake in pushing back on the president, saying Wednesday that Trump’s comments are “just plain wrong.”
Even Kavanaugh and Trump’s closest allies weren’t happy with the remark.
“There’s a lot of time expiration in memory here. I think it would have been better left unsaid,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a strong GOP defender of Kavanaugh’s.
The shift in tactics is part of an effort to undermine Ford’s credibility while the Senate awaits the FBI report. Last week’s extraordinary Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Ford and Kavanaugh captivated the nation, and since then, Kavanaugh supporters have questioned her version of events and personal integrity.
On Tuesday night, Trump openly mocked Ford during a political rally, a move that was harshly criticized by Democrats.
“Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” Trump taunted Ford during a rally for GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi. Trump said Kavanaugh — not Ford — is the real victim in this whole episode.
“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember,” Trump said, to cheers from the crowd. “But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
And on Wednesday, pro-Kavanaugh forces circulated a redacted statement purportedly from an ex-boyfriend of Ford that says she never mentioned Kavanaugh during the six-year relationship, which ended in 1998. Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that she told no one of the alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh until 2012.
“I first met Christine Blasey (now Dr. Christine Blasey Ford) in 1989 or 1990 in California. From 1990-91, I was just friends with Ford. From approximately 1992 to 1998, I was in a relationship with Dr. Ford,” the ex-boyfriend stated. “I found her truthful and maintain no animus towards her.”
The ex-boyfriend added: “During our time dating, Dr. Ford never brought up anything regarding her experience as a victim of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct. Dr. Ford never mentioned Brett Kavanaugh.”
The former boyfriend — who has not spoken to Ford since 2002 — claims she had helped another friend prepare for a polygraph exam. Ford’s lawyers have submitted results from a polygraph to support her allegations against Kavanaugh, and Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath last week that she has never advised anyone on taking a polygraph.
Ford stands by her testimony last week, according to a member of her team. A source close to her said the California-based professor “is not going to get into a tit-for-tat.”
Ford’s team did, however, release a response from the friend cited in her ex-boyfriend’s statement, who flatly denies his claims. “I have NEVER had Christine Blasey Ford, or anybody else, prepare me, or provide any other type of assistance whatsoever in connection with any polygraph exam I have taken at any time,” Monica McLean said in her response.
Republicans on the Judiciary panel also have suggested that Ford’s lawyers may have violated American Bar Association standards by neglecting to inform her of Grassley’s offer to fly committee staff out to her in California, should she have opted not to testify. Ford told senators last week that “it wasn’t clear” if Grassley himself would have been able to travel west to speak with her.
But a member of Ford’s team said that no such deliberate miscommunication took place: “Dr. Ford’s legal team advised her of all the options the committee offered her. She chose to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Matthew Choi contributed to this repot.