Kavanaugh: ‘I am independent, impartial’

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Bloomberg pic)

WASHINGTON: As angry protesters swamped Capitol Hill on the eve of a crunch vote Friday to advance the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the judge made a highly unusual plea to defend his “impartiality.”

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Judge Kavanaugh appeared as Republicans confidently declared that a week-long FBI investigation found nothing to corroborate sex assault allegations against President Donald Trump’s court pick.

Opposition Democrats assailed the latest FBI probe as “incomplete” and constrained by a White House determined to push through the lifetime appointment of the conservative 53-year-old judge.

Furor over Kavanaugh’s nomination has overshadowed next month’s midterm elections in which control of Congress by Trump’s Republican Party could be at stake.

Kavanaugh penned the defence of his performance during last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which he denied the allegations, made at the same hearing, of a California university professor.

Christine Blasey Ford said he drunkenly groped her and attempted to take her clothes off in what she believed was a rape attempt when they were teenagers decades ago.

In his testimony, Kavanaugh complained about “a calculated and orchestrated political hit fuelled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.”

“My hearing testimony was forceful and passionate. That is because I forcefully and passionately denied the allegation against me,” Kavanaugh wrote in the Journal piece headlined: “I am an independent, impartial judge.”

“I do not decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” he wrote, adding that the country’s top court “must never be viewed as a partisan institution.”

A sea of women – thousands of protesters – marched on the Supreme Court Thursday and many infiltrated the Hart Senate Office Building to hold loud sit-in protests against the judge.

Some held signs calling him a liar and “unfit” to serve. Police arrested 300 protesters.

“I believe Kavanaugh is part of a Big Old Boys club that is going to protect him no matter what,” said Angela Trzepkowski, 55, from Delaware.

At a rally of supporters in Minnesota on Thursday night Trump called Kavanaugh “one of the most respected,” as his supporters chanted: “We want Kavanaugh.”

Two of the three Republican lawmakers undecided on the nominee boosted his confirmation chances by signalling they believed the bureau had done a thorough probe.

“This investigation found no hint of misconduct,” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know.”

Grassley said the full Senate should vote Saturday on Kavanaugh’s nomination – an appointment that could shift the nine-member bench to the right for decades to come.

“Hopefully we’re 48 hours away from having a new person on the Supreme Court,” he told reporters.

The Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, is expected to first hold a vote to limit debate on the nominee Friday at 10.30am (1430 GMT), one hour after the Senate convenes.

All eyes are on the key Republicans who could make or break the confirmation – Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

If all Democrats vote against, Kavanaugh can afford only one Republican defection.

Speaking to reporters after reviewing the FBI report, Collins said it “appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

Flake, a vocal Trump critic who pushed the White House into giving the FBI an additional week to address the accusations against Kavanaugh, signalled his apparent satisfaction, saying the report contained “no additional corroborating information.”

The top Senate Judiciary Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, said the report appeared insufficient to lay to rest concerns about Kavanaugh.

“It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited perhaps by the White House, I don’t know,” Feinstein told reporters.

“We had many fears that this was a very limited process,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Those fears have been realised.”

Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, urged an end to what he called “partisan histrionics” and called for a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“This process has been ruled by fear and anger and underhanded gamesmanship for too long,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Trump said the FBI report exonerated Kavanaugh, and he expressed optimism about Republican chances in the November midterm elections.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a panel now equally divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.

Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham left the secure room, where they studied the FBI report, to declare they were even more confident now that “no corroboration” of the allegations was found.

But several Democrats lit into the process, with Senator Ron Wyden branding it a “whitewash” and Senator Mazie Hirono wincing at Republican claims of comprehensiveness.

“There are dozens of people out there that they could have questioned,” Hirono told AFP.

Kavanaugh also denies further misconduct claims against him from two other women.

In the new background probe, the FBI interviewed nine people, Republicans said.

They include three people Blasey Ford says attended the house party. One is Mark Judge, who the professor says was in the room when Kavanaugh lay on top of her, ground his body against hers and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.

As they mulled Kavanaugh, a Democrat up for re-election in a state which traditionally votes Republican came out against the nominee.

“After doing my due diligence and now that the record is apparently closed, I will vote against his confirmation,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp said Thursday.

Eleventh-hour pressure campaigns occurred in the Capitol, including in Collins’s office where two dozen women passionately laid out the case – without Collins present – for her to oppose Kavanaugh.