Republicans agree to FBI probe into Kavanaugh, Senate vote delay

As Brett Kavanaugh's historic hearing approaches, parties on both sides are still clashing on whether new allegations will also be discussed during the hearing. But the Senate Judiciary chairman confirmed Tuesday that the committee has hired an outside counsel to question Kavanaugh and the woman who accused him of sexual assault.

(CNN) — Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was suddenly thrown into doubt Friday as Senate Republicans called for a one-week delay so that the FBI can investigate sexual assault allegations facing President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Trump will order the FBI probe as requested, a White House official said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the FBI look into “current credible allegations” against Kavanaugh with the provision its review ends no later than Friday, October 5. It was not immediately clear which allegations against Kavanaugh the committee considers credible.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake first made the demand for the FBI probe after a chaotic scene at a Judiciary Committee meeting in which the panel advanced Kavanaugh by a 11-10 party line vote. Swing votes Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin subsequently backed an FBI investigation before they’ll vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there would still be a procedural vote to move ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the Senate on Saturday, with an agreement for the FBI investigation.

The tumult came just hours after Kavanaugh appeared to be on solid footing, with Republicans rallying to his side after his denials of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday.

But a dramatic, last-minute change of heart by Flake, the retiring Republican and Trump critic, threw the GOP’s vote count into flux.

Trump did not immediately take a position on the call for an FBI investigation.

“I have no message. They have to do what they think is right — there’s no message whatsoever,” he told reporters Friday afternoon. “They have to be comfortable with themselves.”

Flake changes his mind

On Friday morning, Flake — who had been seen as one of three swing votes in a Republican caucus that can only afford to lose one vote — announced he would support Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Then, on the way to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room, he was involved in a dramatic confrontation, when two protesters blocked Flake’s elevator. By voting to confirm Kavanaugh, “you’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter,” one tearfully told him live on CNN, as Flake listened and nodded.

Inside the committee room an hour from Friday’s scheduled 1:30 p.m. vote, Flake tapped his friend Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, on the shoulder, and the two retreated to a private anteroom. It set off an hour of frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations, as questions about whether Flake had changed his mind hovered.

“Jeff said, ‘I’m concerned that we are tearing the country apart,'” Coons told CNN. “That the powerful testimony of Dr. Ford did not seem to be taken seriously and investigated — and that Judge Kavanaugh and his family were distraught by allegations that weren’t credible.”

When Flake emerged, he announced his position: He’d vote for Kavanaugh Friday — giving the committee an 11-10 majority to send him on to the Senate floor — but wouldn’t vote for him in the full Senate unless the FBI could investigate first.

“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week,” Flake said. “We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.”

It is not immediately clear whether such an investigation would take place — or what it would entail. That, Flake said, would be up to McConnell. The committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he would back Flake’s request for an FBI investigation, but there is no requirement for the FBI to act.

“This is all gentlemen’s and women’s agreement,” Grassley said after the vote to committee members.

Shortly after the committee vote, Flake, Grassley, Murkowski and other Republicans walked into McConnell’s office.

Senate vote count

Senate Republican leaders appeared Friday morning to have 49 solid yes votes, one shy of the 50 they need to confirm Kavanaugh — meaning they could lose one Republican and have Vice President Mike Pence break a potential tie — so they’re going to gamble with a damaged nominee who is viscerally opposed by Democrats.

Friday morning, Flake, presumed to be the swing vote on the committee, said he would back Kavanaugh. It is unclear how his call for an FBI probe would change that.

Two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and two Democrats in red states — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — now essentially hold the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination in their hands. A third undecided Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced his opposition to Kavanaugh late Friday morning. Donnelly was one of three Democratic senators who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Flake confronted by two female protesters after announcing he’ll back Kavanaugh

Friday’s events follow wrenching, partisan hearing Thursday where Christine Blasey Ford detailed her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh and he vehemently denied them. It sets into motion days of high drama on Capitol Hill, with the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court for a generation in the balance.

Kavanaugh, a Republican who played a lead role in the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct and later worked in former President George W. Bush’s White House, is a DC Circuit Court of Appeals judge. He would replace the retiring Supreme Court swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, possibly cementing a conservative majority for a generation.

Dramatic morning

Shortly after the vote time was set by committee Republicans on Friday in a meeting that started at 9:30 a.m. and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley began reading a statement praising Kavanaugh, California Sen. Kamala Harris led several Democrats in walking out of the hearing room. She was joined by Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, and later, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

“From top to bottom this has been about bullies,” Harris told reporters outside the committee room. “Dr. Ford came in and she poured out her heart. She cooperated with the process. She gave the process dignity and respect. The least we could do is give her the dignity and respect of a process that has credibility.”

“I’m not going to participate in this charade anymore,” Hirono said.

Republicans responded angrily, saying they believed Kavanaugh’s denial of Ford’s allegation.

“I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said Friday.

He said he feels sorry for Ford, “but I don’t believe it was Brett Kavanaugh” who assaulted her.

“Everything I know about Judge Kavanaugh screams that this didn’t happen,” Graham said.

Grassley interrupted Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, when he read statements of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates about his college drinking habits — including one issued last night saying he’d been lying in Thursday’s committee hearing.

Repeatedly, Grassley insisted that Democrats who kept up their calls for an FBI investigation didn’t “understand” the committee’s own probe.

Wrenching hearing

During an intense, day-long hearing Thursday, Ford, a California professor, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both teenagers in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh later offered a vociferous and emotional defense, alternately shouting and tearing up on national television.

On Thursday, Ford told the committee she is “100%” certain it was Kavanaugh who attacked her at a party when the two were teenagers in 1982.

As the nation watched, she said she “believed he was going to rape me.” She told senators it has “haunted me episodically as an adult.”

Then, Kavanaugh denied that allegation and other accusations of sexual misconduct he has faced in recent days. He blamed Democrats for what he said was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” designed to keep him off the Supreme Court. He also refused to support a Democratic push for an FBI investigation of the allegations.

“I’ve never done this,” Kavanaugh said of Ford’s assault charge. “It’s not who I am. I am innocent.”

Late Thursday night, the American Bar Association took the extraordinary step of recommending the Senate Judiciary Committee pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until a FBI probe into the allegations is completed. The association had previously given Kavanaugh a unanimous “well-qualified” rating, its highest rating.

“The basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI,” said Robert Carlson, president of the organization, in a Thursday night letter.

“Each appointment to our nation’s Highest Court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote,” Carlson wrote. “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.”


Here’s what Jeff Flake just did — and what it means for Brett Kavanaugh

28 SEP 18 16:09 ET

(CNN) — Just as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were on the verge of their 11-10 vote to favorably recommend the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake had a change of heart.

And that change of heart changed everything — albeit temporarily.

Here’s what happened — because it’s complicated:

1. Flake voted for Kavanaugh to move out of the committee. But he also made clear that he would not vote for Kavanaugh on the Senate floor without an FBI investigation of the sexual assault allegation against him — an accusation that the nominee has vehemently denied.

2. In a vacuum, that doesn’t mean much. If Republicans only lost Flake, they would have 50 votes in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation when the scheduled vote would happen on Tuesday. That would allow Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie, and Kavanaugh would be confirmed.

3. But Flake — as well as Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar — suggested in the moments before the 11-10 vote that there were other Republicans who felt the same as Flake. As in, they would not support Kavanaugh’s confirmation unless and until the FBI investigation happens. Those senators are, presumably, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

4. None of what Flake did is binding — yet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formally requested the White House to instruct the FBI to do supplemental background check, which “would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee announcement means that McConnell, as expected, has bowed to the fact that he does not currently have the votes. Presumably, Flake would not have a) made the one-week FBI investigation request and then b) voted for Kavanaugh to move favorably out of committee unless c) he knew that he had Murkowski and/or Collins (or some other Republican) was with him. (Murkowski confirmed to reporters after the session that she supports Flake’s proposal.)

So that’s where we are.

There are still a number of loose ends here.

The most obvious is the fact that the White House hasn’t agreed to any of this. But with Flake and Murkowski now on the record saying they will not support Kavanaugh unless there is an FBI investigation, McConnell’s hands were effectively tied. He’s not going to call the bluff of Murkowski and Flake for fear that they make good on their promise and Kavanaugh’s nomination fails by a single vote.

The big question mark is President Donald Trump. Trump is the person who has to ask the FBI to reopen the investigation. And the President has already publicly expressed his unhappiness with the fact that the vote on Kavanaugh hasn’t happened yet.

“They could have pushed it through two weeks ago and we wouldn’t be talking about this right now, which is what I would have preferred,” Trump told reporters of the Kavanaugh confirmation vote earlier this week.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who rescued Kavanaugh’s nomination from near-disaster on Thursday and who has a close relationship with Trump, acknowledged that reality just after the Judiciary Committee vote. “Somebody’s got to explain this to Trump,” said Graham. “I guess that’s my job. If I’m nothing, I’m practical.”

Trump, like McConnell, may not have much of a choice in the matter. If the options are a) refuse to ask the FBI to reopen the background investigation and lose Kavanaugh or b) allow the FBI investigation and, assuming nothing is found that incriminates Kavanaugh, get Flake and Murkowski (and any other wayward Republican senators) back into the fold in support of the judge, then Trump will really have only one option.

The biggest loose end, of course, is whether Kavanaugh decides — in the face of a week-long delay — to simply withdraw. He was adamant that he would not do so during his testimony on Thursday. But he also was very clear that he believed the vote needed to happen immediately. Does this likely delay change anything for Kavanaugh?

And what about Trump? The President is hugely mercurial. He has already openly discussed what would happen if he was forced to move on from Kavanaugh. Does this forced delay make him throw up his hands and simply move on to another nominee that would be less problematic?

More questions than answers. But what’s clear is that if Flake and Murkowski hold strong, McConnell and Trump have very few appealing options other than to accept a week-long delay — something they insisted was a non-starter just days ago.


(CNN) — The Senate could be forced to delay a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called for up to a one-week delay so the FBI can investigate sexual assault allegations facing President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 on party lines Friday afternoon to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor.

But the vote came after a chaotic scene in which Flake — who announced his support for Kavanaugh earlier Friday, and then appeared to have a change of heart — and other senators were involved in an hour-long, behind-the-scenes negotiation about how to proceed.

“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week,” Flake said, so that the FBI can investigate allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. “We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.”

It is not immediately clear whether such an investigation would take place — or what it would entail. That, Flake said, would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. The committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he would back Flake’s request for an FBI investigation, but there is no requirement for the FBI to act.

“This is all gentlemen’s and women’s agreement,” Grassley said after the vote to committee members.

Trump did not immediately oppose the plan that could delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“Whatever they think is necessary is OK,” he told reporters at the White House.

McConnell has not announced a decision on the request for a delay.

Flake’s declaration that he would not vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation “until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already” is significant.

Along with Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, he is one of the three Republican swing votes on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. If all Democrats and two Republicans oppose Kavanaugh, he cannot be confirmed.

“If (Flake) is joined by one or two other Republicans in that request, then they wouldn’t have the votes unless the investigation” is conducted, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said after the committee vote.

Senate vote count

Senate Republican leaders appeared Friday morning to have 49 solid yes votes, one shy of the 50 they need to confirm Kavanaugh — meaning they could lose one Republican and have Vice President Mike Pence break a potential tie — so they’re going to gamble with a damaged nominee who is viscerally opposed by Democrats.

Friday morning, Flake, presumed to be the swing vote on the committee, said he would back Kavanaugh. It is unclear how his call for an FBI probe would change that.

Two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and two Democrats in red states — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — now essentially hold the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination in their hands. A third undecided Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced his opposition to Kavanaugh late Friday morning. Donnelly was one of three Democratic senators who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Flake confronted by two female protesters after announcing he’ll back Kavanaugh

Friday’s events follow wrenching, partisan hearing Thursday where Christine Blasey Ford detailed her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh and he vehemently denied them. It sets into motion days of high drama on Capitol Hill, with the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court for a generation in the balance.

The committee action will be the first step in a series of votes to determine whether conservatives lock in a 5-4 majority on the court. After the committee votes, the GOP’s current plan is to hold a procedural vote on the Senate floor midday Saturday and hold the final vote early next week.

Kavanaugh, a Republican who played a lead role in the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct and later worked in former President George W. Bush’s White House, is a DC Circuit Court of Appeals judge. He would replace the retiring Supreme Court swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, possibly cementing a conservative majority for a generation.

Shortly after the vote time was set by committee Republicans on Friday in a meeting that started at 9:30 a.m. and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley began reading a statement praising Kavanaugh, California Sen. Kamala Harris led several Democrats in walking out of the hearing room. She was joined by Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, and later, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

“From top to bottom this has been about bullies,” Harris told reporters outside the committee room. “Dr. Ford came in and she poured out her heart. She cooperated with the process. She gave the process dignity and respect. The least we could do is give her the dignity and respect of a process that has credibility.”

“I’m not going to participate in this charade anymore,” Hirono said.

Republicans responded angrily, saying they believed Kavanaugh’s denial of Ford’s allegation.

“I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said Friday.

He said he feels sorry for Ford, “but I don’t believe it was Brett Kavanaugh” who assaulted her.

“Everything I know about Judge Kavanaugh screams that this didn’t happen,” Graham said.

Grassley interrupted Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, when he read statements of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates about his college drinking habits — including one issued last night saying he’d been lying in Thursday’s committee hearing.

Repeatedly, Grassley insisted that Democrats who kept up their calls for an FBI investigation didn’t “understand” the committee’s own probe.

Democrats also made a last-ditch effort to push Grassley to subpoena Mark Judge — the man Ford told senators was in the room with Kavanaugh when she says she was assaulted.

As senators delivered speeches in the committee — Democrats detailing their opposition to Kavanaugh and Republicans saying they support him — Flake created a stir when he tapped Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, on the shoulder and the two left the room together. It’s unclear what they discussed.

Wrenching hearing

During an intense, day-long hearing Thursday, Ford, a California professor, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both teenagers in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh later offered a vociferous and emotional defense, alternately shouting and tearing up on national television.

On Thursday, Ford told the committee she is “100%” certain it was Kavanaugh who attacked her at a party when the two were teenagers in 1982.

As the nation watched, she said she “believed he was going to rape me.” She told senators it has “haunted me episodically as an adult.”

Then, Kavanaugh denied that allegation and other accusations of sexual misconduct he has faced in recent days. He blamed Democrats for what he said was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” designed to keep him off the Supreme Court. He also refused to support a Democratic push for an FBI investigation of the allegations.

“I’ve never done this,” Kavanaugh said of Ford’s assault charge. “It’s not who I am. I am innocent.”

Late Thursday night, the American Bar Association took the extraordinary step of recommending the Senate Judiciary Committee pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until a FBI probe into the allegations is completed. The association had previously given Kavanaugh a unanimous “well-qualified” rating, its highest rating.

“The basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI,” said Robert Carlson, president of the organization, in a Thursday night letter.

“Each appointment to our nation’s Highest Court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote,” Carlson wrote. “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.”