WASHINGTON (Courthouse News) – Senators on Thursday started reviewing the confidential results of an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, with Republicans saying it includes no new information about the claims against the judge and Democrats saying the probe was not thorough enough.
While that sharp difference in opinon was expected, many eyes Thursday were on Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the key swing Republican vote.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Flake said Thursday there was nothing in the FBI supplementary background check to corroborate Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, announced the panel had received the FBI’s findings from the week-long probe in a tweet early Thursday morning.
The Trump administration ordered the investigation after several Republican senators, including Judiciary Committee member Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said they would not feel comfortable voting for Kavanaugh without an FBI investigation.
In a statement issued later Thursday morning after he was briefed on the results of the investigation, Grassley said the probe found “no hint of misconduct” and turned up no witnesses who could back up the allegations against Kavanaugh.
“I trust that the career agents of the FBI have done their work independent of political or partisan considerations,” the statement said. “That’s exactly what senators from both sides asked for. Now it’s up to senators to fulfill their constitutional duty and make a judgment.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed confidence senators would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh hours after the FBI transmitted its latest findings to Capitol Hill.
“We certainly hope so,” she said. “We feel, as Chairman Grassley said a few minutes ago, we didn’t learn anything new.”
Speaking briefly with reporters in the White House driveway an appearance on Fox News, Sanders wouldn’t discuss the details of the report but said the White House was pleased with how the FBI conducted its latest investigation.
“We allowed the FBI to do exactly what they do best,” she said. “We haven’t micromanaged this process. We accommodated all of the Senate’s requests. The president was very clear about that and allowed the FBI to make those decisions.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Thursday she reviewed a portion of the FBI’s report shortly after 9 a.m.
The California Democrat said because the report is confidential, she could not discuss specifics of what is in it, and instead lamented the scope of the probe.
“It looks to be the product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House, I don’t know,” Feinstein said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also did not get into specifics on the report, but offered that he did not agree with Grassley’s earlier assessment of its content.
“Having received this briefing on all of the documents, I disagree with Senator Grassley’s statement that there was no hint of misconduct,” Schumer said.
Neither Schumer nor Feinstein answered questions after speaking to reporters Thursday.
Other Democrats also said said they disagreed with Grassley’s assessment of the FBI’s report, which Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., described as “agent summaries,” but most criticism from the left in the Senate was about the adequacy of the FBI’s probe.
“There is much in there that raises more questions,” Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., told reporters Thursday. “There is significant evidence that there are other relevant witnesses that have not been contacted, have not been interviewed, people who could have given eyewitness accounts, people who could have corroborated what happened.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday night set up a key procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination that will test whether the investigation assuaged the concerns of the moderate Republicans who forced the FBI probe. That vote is expected to take place Friday, with the Senate possibly confirming Kavanaugh as early as Saturday.
With a slim margin in the Senate, Republicans can only afford to lose one member from their caucus and still have Kavanaugh confirmed, assuming Democrats vote in lockstep against him.
Three women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct over the past three weeks, including Christine Blasey Ford, a professor who says Kavanaugh forced her into a bedroom, pinned her to a bed and attempted to remove her clothes at a party when they were both in high school in 1982.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, including in fiery testimony before the Judiciary Committee last week. Ford also testified before the committee, detailing her memories of the night and the ways in which the alleged assault has impacted her life.
Judiciary Committee Republicans pushed back against allegations from Democrats that they artificially limited the scope of the FBI’s investigation.
Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters the Judiciary Committee did not give the FBI a comprehensive list of people the agency could reach out for interviews and that the FBI, during the course of its investigation, identified and talked with other witnesses who had not previously made statements.
Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, also said the FBI followed “additional leads” during the probe.
“The FBI has gotten all the permission they need in order to interview whoever they think is necessary,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday.
With the FBI investigation complete, the Senate is expected to take a procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination early on Friday. That vote will indicate whether he will succeed in the decisive confirmation vote, which is currently expected to take place on Saturday afternoon.