FBI’s Kavanaugh scope widens as GOP seeks votes

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE and congressional Republicans are moving to defang a looming fight over the scope of the FBI’s investigation into sexual assault allegations that have thrown Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination into limbo.

The scope of the probe — which the White House and Senate Republicans agreed to after pressure from moderates — was threatening to become a flashpoint in the Supreme Court fight and the latest headache for Republicans, who have faced weeks of curveballs on a nominee they once believed was a lock for confirmation.

Seeking to stem the fight, Trump and the White House said Monday that they had no problem with the FBI widening its investigation, which came after three woman publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

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Trump told reporters that he wants a “comprehensive investigation” into the allegation, including allowing the FBI to talk with Julie Swetnick, the third woman to bring public allegations against Kavanaugh. Swetnick says Kavanaugh was present at a party where she was gang raped.

“I think the FBI should do what they have to do to get to the answer," Trump told reporters during a press conference. “Now with that being said, I’d like it go go quickly … because it’s unfair to [Kavanaugh] at this point.”

The New York Times, citing four individuals familiar with the matter, reported that the White House had told the bureau that it could speak with anyone it deemed appropriate as long as the agency finished by the end of the week.

In addition to Swetnick, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez have publicly brought sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

The FBI reached out to attorneys for Ramirez over the weekend. A member of Ford’s legal team said that as of mid-afternoon Monday they had not been contacted by the FBI since the investigation was put on the table Friday.

Ford, during emotional testimony, detailed her allegation that Kavanaugh pinned her down to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothing during a high school party in the early 1980s. Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were both students at Yale University. Kavanaugh denies all of the allegations.

The decision could reassure a key group of moderate GOP senators who privately pushed for the FBI investigation to defuse what was becoming a point of contention from Democrats.

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) said Monday that the FBI investigation should not just be used to give “cover” to let senators vote for Kavanaugh.

“We certainly want the FBI to do a real investigation and we are working to make sure that happens. ... It does no good to have an investigation that just gives us more cover, for example. We actually need to find out what we can find out,” Flake said at a Forbes “30 Under 30” summit.

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBusiness, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (Maine) said in a statement that she was “confident” that the FBI would “follow up on any leads that result from the interviews.”

Spokespeople for the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about any conversations they had with Collins ahead of Monday’s decision.

Republican Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight MORE (Alaska), asked if she had consulted with the FBI, told reporters that "they are doing the task that the White House directed them to [do] so I don't want to be interrupting that." 

"I'm going to see what they come back with but they've got the task in front of them and it's incumbent on all of us to listen to the information when it comes out," Murkowski said.

Asked about the White House expanding the investigation, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together MORE (Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator, said Flake, Collins and Murkowski wanted the investigation to include “current” and “credible” allegations.

“We’ve asked them what they need and this is what they have said. So my assumption is once they’re satisfied with the results of the supplemental investigation that they would be satisfied to go ahead and vote,” Cornyn said.

The decision to widen the FBI probe comes as Kavanaugh’s nomination remains short of the simple majority support required to be confirmed. Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, meaning they can only lose one GOP senator before they need help from Democrats.

No Democratic senator has said, yet, that they will support Kavanaugh. Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE (W.Va.) remain undecided.

Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall Trump says he 'didn't need to' declare emergency but wanted 'faster' action MORE (D-N.Y.) said following Trump’s comments that he was “glad” to see the president’s remarks but the administration needs to publicly release the scope of the investigation.

“We have to make sure now that those comments reflect what the White House has officially told the FBI. ... We need an official document from the White House made public so the whole country knows what the scope is,” Schumer said during a Senate floor speech.

Schumer noted that Democrats are not calling on the FBI to get more than a week to investigate but they want the FBI to brief the Senate on the results of the investigation before a final Senate floor vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The FBI’s national press office declined to comment Monday on its handling of background investigations beyond pointing to Director Christopher Wray’s February testimony. Wray, asked about a background investigation into then-White House aide Rob Porter, says the FBI has “established protocols.”

“I would say that the background investigation process involves a fairly elaborate set of standards, guidelines, protocols, agreements, et cetera, that have been in place for 20-plus years,” Wray said at the time.

The FBI’s investigation is only the latest twist in Kavanaugh’s nomination, whose confirmation senators viewed as inevitable before the sexual assault allegations surfaced.

Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGreen New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire Coulter defends Paul Ryan: This is 100 percent Trump's fault MORE (R-Ky.) traded rhetorical jabs from the Senate floor on Monday. Schumer argued that Kavanaugh’s “credibility” should be key to deciding if he should be confirmed.

“Anyone who watched the Judiciary Committee hearing … should have serious, if not disqualifying doubts about Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility and independence,” Schumer said.

McConnell fired back predicting that Democrats would move the “goalposts” regardless of what the FBI report says and pledging that the Senate will hold a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination “this week.”  

The exact timing of a vote remains unclear but under the original time frame the FBI has to wrap up its investigation by Friday. GOP leadership has to be careful not to make any moves that could be interpreted by GOP swing votes as not honoring the original deal.

“Let me make a small prediction. Soon enough the goalpost will be on the move,” McConnell added. “I would respectfully say to my colleagues, did these actions suggest this has ever been about finding the truth? Anybody believe that?”

—Alexander Bolton contributed. Updated at 7:07 p.m.