Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acts to close off the tightly-limited FBI investigation of embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, hoping for a confirmation vote this weekend.
McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday night that he will start a procedural vote on Friday to close debate on Kavanaugh — even though Senators have not yet seen the FBI report on its five-day investigation and even though the inquiry has been damned for not interviewing numerous witnesses, including two of Kavanaugh’s three accusers, reportedly on White House instructions.
“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on the supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” McConnell said.
The Majority Leader’s plan for a Kavanaugh confirmation last weekend was undone when GOP Senator Jeff Flake attached the condition of a one-week FBI investigation to his vote, in a 11-10 majority, for the Judiciary Committee to pass the nomination to the Senate floor.
Worried that Flake and two other undecided Republican senators, Liza Murkowski and Susan Collins, would undo a 51-49 GOP majority, McConnell gave way. But the White House quickly acted to ensure the FBI interviewed only a small group of witnesses.
Neither Christine Ford — whose compelling testimony before the Judiciary Committee focused doubts about Kavanaugh — or Julie Swetnick were approached about their claims of sexual assault. The other accuser, Deborah Ramirez, was interviewed but there was no follow-up with any of the witnesses whom she named. The FBI was told not to speak with anyone about Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, which his critics claim led to his aggression and the possible assaults.
Ford attorney slams FBI probe for refusal to question Ford and others who could corroborate her story. “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.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 4, 2018
One of the witnesses, Yale University theology professor Kenneth Appold, came forward after the FBI declined to take his testimony. Appold, Kavanaugh’s suitemate at Yale, said that he was told of the incident when Kavanaugh put his penis in Deborah Ramirez’s face: “I can corroborate Debbie’s account. I believe her, because it matches the same story I heard thirty-five years ago, although the two of us have never talked.”
I am very alarmed, first, that I was denied an FBI investigation for five days, and then, when one was granted, that it was given on a short timeline and that the people who were key to corroborating my story have not been contacted. I feel like I’m being silenced.
Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, warned that the interview summaries might be worthless because of the limits: “[These raise] serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation and begs the question: What other restrictions has the White House placed on the F.B.I.?”
The terrible treatment of Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez by Senate Republicans tells every woman in this country to keep sexual assault to themselves. We must send a different message, a message of support.
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) October 3, 2018
But McConnell swept aside any objection, trying to keep the curtailed FBI investigation out of public view:
JUST IN: McConnell rejects Schumer’s request for an FBI briefing for all 100 senators on the findings of the Kavanaugh background investigation, saying it “would be unprecedented and irregular,” adding “I believe it would be used to further delay this nomination.”
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) October 3, 2018
Sparring Over Tweets and Trump’s Mockery
Meanwhile, the White House and GOP leadership tried to turn attention onto Democrats as politically-motivated obstructors of a qualified judge. Trump went farther, portraying a risk to all men — rather than women who suffer sexual assault — as victims and then mocking Ford at a rally on Tuesday.
GOP Judicary Committee members, reportedly the staff of chairman Charles Grassley, also tried to pre-empt the FBI report by asserting that six background inquiries — carried out before the sexual assault allegations — had found no evidence of Kavanaugh’s excessive drinking or sexual abuse.
Democrat Committee member Dick Durbin responded:
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) October 3, 2018
The 3 Key Republicans
McConnell’s statement and the dispute over the scope of the FBI investigation returned attention to the three key Republican senators Flake, Murkowski, and Collins.
Flake downplayed the FBI’s refusal to interview Ford, saying her testimony before the Judiciary Committee was sufficient. But earlier in the week Collins had said the third accuser, Julie Swetnick, should be interviewed.
And Murkowski said she was unsettled by Trump’s insult of Christine Ford at his Mississippi rally:
I am taking everything into account. The President’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable.
Collins said the remarks were “just plain wrong”, and Flake called them “appalling”: “There is no time and no place for remarks like that, but to discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right.”
But Flake said Trump’s mockery would not be a factor in his vote on Kavanaugh. Collins gave no indication of any effect.
1000+ Law Professors: Don’t Confirm Kavanaugh
More than 1000 law professors have written an open letter objecting to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
In the letter, which will be delivered to the Senate on Thursday, the professors said that, in his testimony to the Judiciary Committee:
Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land….
Instead of trying to sort out with reason and care the allegations that were raised, Judge Kavanaugh responded in an intemperate, inflammatory and partial manner, as he interrupted and, at times, was discourteous to senators.
The signatories summarized that they are not assured that Kavanaugh can “display the impartiality” necessary to serve as a Supreme Court justice.