Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, but with a surprise twist — Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona called for an FBI investigation ahead of a final vote, GOP leadership agreed, and President Trump ordered the investigation.
Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee, voted with other members of his party to advance the nomination and called for the final vote within a week. A procedural vote to advance the nomination is scheduled for Saturday, Reuters reports.
“This country is being ripped apart here,” Flake said before the committee on Friday, referring to the marathon hearing on Thursday during which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school.
Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations when he testified before the committee after Ford.
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What will the FBI investigation look into?
Flake said the investigation should be “limited in time and scope to the current allegations” that Kavanaugh is facing.
At this point, it is not clear if the FBI investigation will include the allegations of two other women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, the Washington Post reports.
The Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement Friday that it asked the White House for a “supplemental FBI background investigation” which “would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee.”
The investigation would primarily involve interviewing witnesses and gathering more details now that these accusations against Kavanaugh have been made public, NPR reports.
A lawyer for Mark Judge, the friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was in the room during the alleged assault, will cooperate with the FBI if asked, CNN reports.
Kavanaugh said in a statement that he “will continue to cooperate.”
Which senators are still undecided?
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, and Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have yet to announce whether or not they will support Kavanaugh in the final Senate vote. Murkowski joined Flake Friday in calling for an FBI investigation.
Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana said Friday he would not vote for Kavanaugh.
Flake said early Friday that he would vote for Kavanaugh, before ultimately calling for a delay and an FBI investigation into the allegations.
“What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence,” Flake originally said in announcing his intention to vote for Kavanaugh. “I believe that the constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well.”
In a statement, Manchin praised Flake’s decision to slow down the timeline.
“It took courage to take a stand and call for a one-week FBI investigation to get to the bottom of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh,” Manchin said. “This has been a partisan and divisive process. The American people have been pulled apart by this entire spectacle and we need to take time to address these claims independently, so that our country can have confidence in the outcome of this vote. It is what is right and fair for Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, and the American people.”
What do Republican senators think?
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chair of the Judiciary panel, said he’s still optimistic Kavanaugh will be confirmed, CNN reports.
“Why would you be disappointed when you move a nominee out of Committee?” Grassley said, according to CNN. “You’re moving forward.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the committee, said that “Jeff is trying his best to bring the country together.”
Asked if he supported the proposal that Flake — a key swing vote — had advanced, Graham said: “Last time I looked you need 50 votes.”
What does President Trump think?
“I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file,” Trump said in a statement tweeted by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Earlier in the day, Trump said he would let the Senate work through the matter.
“I’m going to let the Senate handle that ... they’re very professional. I’m sure it will all be very good,” Trump said. “They have to do what they think is right. They have to be comfortable with themselves.”
Immediately following the hearing on Thursday, Trump issued a Tweet of support for his nominee.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” Trump said.
When will a final vote be held?
That’s up to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
But with just 51 Republicans in the chamber, McConnell can’t afford to lose two votes from his party if the undecided Democrats also vote against the nominee. That means that if more than two members of his caucus support an FBI investigation before a vote, there’s little choice but to let one go ahead.
McConnell pointed to the Judiciary Committee statement requesting an FBI investigation that lasts no more than a week, the Louisville Courier Journal reports, suggesting a vote could come soon after.
Disclosure: Jared Gilmour, who reported this story, worked in Sen. Heitkamp’s office from 2015 to 2017.