Senate

FBI’s Kavanaugh scope widens as GOP seeks votes

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President Trump 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.

{mosads}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 Flake (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 Collins (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 Murkowski (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 Cornyn (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 Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) remain undecided.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 McConnell (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.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Jeff Flake Joe Manchin John Cornyn Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Supreme Court Susan Collins
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