Senators get FBI report on Kavanaugh, Republicans push vote

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Bloomberg pic)

WASHINGTON: The White House on Thursday rejected Democratic criticism of its handling of an FBI probe into sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as Senate Republicans manoeuvred to confirm the conservative judge within days.

President Donald Trump, pushing to get his nominee for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court, said in a Twitter post on Thursday after the FBI finished its investigation that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “totally uncorroborated.”

The White House sent the report to the Senate Judiciary Committee early on Thursday, and senators were poring over it to determine whether it resolved their concerns about the nominee.

Some Democrats voiced concern that the report was inadequate because the FBI had not interviewed enough people, including Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982. Senator Chris Coons told CNN it appeared a number of important witnesses had not been questioned.

Attorneys for Deborah Ramirez, who also has accused the judge of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray saying they were “deeply disappointed” that agents had not followed up on their interview with her by talking to the more than 20 witnesses she identified as being able to corroborate her account of his behaviour.

Republicans expressed growing confidence that Kavanaugh would be confirmed by the Senate after the pitched political battle that has riveted Americans weeks before crucial congressional elections on Nov. 6. White House spokesman Raj Shah said the Trump administration was “fully confident” Kavanaugh had the necessary support.

A senior Senate Republican aide said there was growing confidence that Republican Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin – all swing votes – will support Kavanaugh. If so, that could be enough for a Trump victory in this battle. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is another swing vote who has been heavily lobbied in Alaska to oppose Kavanaugh.

The allegations of sexual misconduct arose during the Senate confirmation process. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, which related to actions when he was a student in high school and college.

Trump and the Senate Republican leadership are battling to corral enough support for a majority vote for Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge who would deepen conservative control of the Supreme Court. Democrats have fought his nomination from the outset.

Shah told CNN the White House believes the FBI report had addressed the Senate’s questions about Kavanaugh.

“The White House didn’t micromanage the FBI. … It’s been sent to the Senate, no White House editing,” Shah said. “Obviously the senators have just begun to read this information but we feel very confident that we will have the votes.”

Procedural vote

The FBI report was sent to the White House and Senate just hours after Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took steps on Wednesday night to force a procedural vote on the nomination one hour after the Senate convenes on Friday.

McConnell filed a petition for the procedural vote to limit debate on the nomination and start the clock ticking on a final 30-hour waiting period before a final Senate confirmation vote.

Ford’s attorneys said she was not contacted by the FBI for the report. Several people with information related to allegations against Kavanaugh told Reuters they had not heard from the FBI, suggesting its report may be narrower than was desired by some lawmakers who demanded it just days ago.

Republican senators were meeting in a secure room in the U.S. Capitol to receive a briefing on the FBI report from the Judiciary Committee’s Republican staff. They will not take notes or remove the report from the room. Democratic senators huddled, preparing to hold a news conference.

Flake, Collins and Murkowski all have criticized Trump for mocking Ford at a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday.

Ford, who testified last week at a dramatic Judiciary Committee hearing, said she could not remember the precise date or location of the alleged assault or how she got home later, but offered a detailed account of the incident.

Ford accused Kavanaugh of pinning her down, trying to remove his clothing and covering her mouth when she screamed. He denied the allegation and painted himself as the victim of a “political hit.”