WASHINGTON: US Senators prepared Thursday to review the results of the new FBI probe into the background of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ahead of a final confirmation vote perhaps as early as Saturday.
The White House reviewed new interviews conducted by the FBI in its investigation of sexual assault allegations against the man President Donald Trump wants to secure a conservative majority on the court for the coming decades.
It sent the material to the Senate in the middle of the night and said it found nothing in them to corroborate the allegations against Kavanaugh.
“With this additional information, the White House is fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement.
Even before Senators saw the new FBI material, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to end debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination, setting up a Friday procedural vote and a final vote as early as the following day.
“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on the supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” he said.
Senators will review the new material in a secure room in the Senate, or can choose to be briefed on it.
Sex assault allegation
Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early 1980s while they were in high school.
Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegation and further sexual misconduct claims against him from two other women. One of them, Deborah Ramirez, has alleged that he showed her his genitals during a party in college.
As Senate Republicans moved quickly for a vote, Democrats and one key Republican, Jeff Flake, insisted that the FBI be allowed to reopen its background investigation of Kavanaugh. Trump relented, giving the FBI another week to investigate.
The controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination comes ahead of November congressional elections in which Trump’s Republican Party will battle to keep control of Congress.
In the new background probe, the FBI contacted 10 people and interviewed nine, The New York Times reported. It was not clear why the 10th was not interviewed.
They include three people who Ford says were in the house at the time of the party. One is Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh who the professor says was in the room when Kavanaugh lay on top of her, ground his genitals against her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.
Ford and Kavanaugh were not interviewed. The White House said their testimony before the Senate committee was enough, the Times said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the new FBI interview material might be of no value because Kavanaugh, Ford and witnesses identified as corroborators by Ramirez were not interviewed.
Feinstein said those restrictions raised “serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation and begs the question: What other restrictions has the White House placed on the FBI?”
Earlier Wednesday three Republican senators key to Kavanaugh’s approval blasted Trump for mocking Ford at a political rally.
Still undecided on backing the conservative judge, Senator Susan Collins weighed in to denounce the president’s comments ridiculing Ford as “just plain wrong.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski called Trump’s speech “wholly inappropriate” and “unacceptable”.
Flake, the third Republican swing vote, said there was “no time and no place for remarks like that.”
“To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. I wish he hadn’t done it. It’s kind of appalling,” Flake said.
At a Mississippi election rally late Tuesday, Trump ridiculed Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
The White House denied that Trump had derided the university professor.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, called Trump’s remarks “reprehensible”. He said the president owed Ford an immediate apology.
In her testimony last week Ford said she could not remember some details of the night of the assault, such as how she got to and from the party.
“I had one beer, right?” Trump said before a gathering of supporters, echoing one point Ford did recall.
“‘How did you get home?’ I don’t remember. ‘How did you get there?’ I don’t remember. ‘Where was the place?’ I don’t remember. ‘How many years ago was it?’ I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” he added, to cheers from supporters.
With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, the loss of any two of their senators would doom Kavanaugh.
None of the three undecided Republicans would say if they had made their minds up one way or another.