Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a crucial swing vote in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, asked Friday for an FBI investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court nominee.
The move strongly indicates that he would not feel comfortable voting to confirm Kavanaugh when the vote goes to the full Senate without such a probe.
“We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Friday. “I can only say that I would be only comfortable moving forward on the floor until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already. It may not take them a week. I understand that some of these witnesses may not want to discuss anything further. But I think we owe them due diligence.
Still, when the Senate Judiciary committee had its Friday hearing on whether to advance Kavanaugh, Flake voted to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate, along with his Republican colleagues, in an 11-10 vote. Flake has no control over whether the Senate will vote on Kavanaugh, and his request for an FBI investigation technically amounts to only a personal plea.
Only President Donald Trump can reopen the federal background check on Kavanaugh, but Flake said he would be willing to personally ask the president do so. And any criminal investigation, which is already unlikely, would almost certainly occur at the state level without the FBI's involvement.
And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, another key Republican swing vote, agreed to support an investigation into Ford’s claims. It’s not yet clear whether she’d be willing to vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation without an investigation, though. And it’s also unclear whether Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would want to risk taking the nomination to a full vote while the two Republicans waiver.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a vulnerable Democrat from West Virginia up for re-election, also endorsed an investigation.
Trump said shortly after the hearing ended that he would be “totally reliant” on the actions of Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump also called Thursday’s testimony from Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, “compelling.”
Grassley ended the hearing Friday abruptly by citing an arcane procedural rule, leaving Democrats and Republicans alike looking bewildered as they filed out of the room. “Is it done?” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked Grassley. “Did you cut off a vote?”
There was no vote on whether to have an FBI investigation, Grassley told Feinstein. “This is all a gentlemen and women's agreement."
"Gentlemen and women's agreement?” Feinstein repeated, dubious.
Without an investigation, Kavanaugh could be confirmed to the Supreme Court as early as next week.
The day before the committee voted to push through Kavanaugh nomination, a tearful yet composed Christine Blasey Ford recalled her sexual assault to the Senate Judiciary Committee — how Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her down, groped her and put his hand over her mouth one summer night in 1982, when she was 15 and he was 17.
“She was poised, she was credible, and she should be believed,” Feinstein said Friday morning. Feinstein has been attacked for holding onto the allegations since July, when Ford was not yet ready to go public with her story but wanted her representatives to investigate the matter.
In the moments ahead of Friday’s committee hearing, Flake was approached by a survivor of sexual assault as he attempted to ride an elevator. He looked visibly uncomfortable, staring at his feet, as a tearful, impassioned woman shouted, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
“You are telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t, and that you’re going to let people who does these things into power,” she said. “That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me.”
Cover image: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., attends a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)