By John Wagner
October 4 at 11:48 AM
BREAKING NEWS: GOP Sens. Flake and Collins express satisfaction with FBI report, increasing odds of Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh this weekend.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has not indicated how she would vote, said that “It appears to be a very thorough investigation but I’m going back later to personally read the interviews.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters, “We’ve seen no additional corroborating information.”
Collins, Flake and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are the critical votes that could ensure Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
A leading Republican said Thursday that a new FBI report on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh found “no hint of misconduct,” while Democrats called it incomplete and suggested that the White House limited the probe to protect President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
How Senators plan to vote on Kavanaugh
The dueling assessments came as senators started reading the FBI background check into allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, who has faced multiple accusers, including Christine Blasey Ford, who says he assaulted her while they were teenagers.
The FBI interviewed neither Ford nor Kavanaugh before producing what senators said was a 46-page report that delayed consideration of Kavanaugh’s nomination by a week.
“There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement after being briefed on the FBI report by his staff. “It’s time to vote.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, later told reporters that “the most notable part of this report is what’s not in it.”
[The Senate has the FBI report on Kavanaugh. Here’s what senators on the fence are probably mulling over.]
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who appeared beside her at a news conference, blamed the White House for the limited scope of the latest probe.
“We had many fears that this was a very limited process that would constrain the FBI from getting all of the facts,” he said. “Those fears have been realized.”
Schumer said he disagreed with Grassley’s assessment that there is “no hint of misconduct” but declined to elaborate or take questions.
The Senate is heading toward a procedural vote Friday, and if Republicans prevail, Kavanaugh would be on track to a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of three Republicans considered key to Kavanaugh’s fate, told reporters Thursday that the FBI probe “appears to be a very thorough investigation but I’m going back later to personally read the interviews.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said that the FBI agents had reached out to 10 witnesses — nine of whom were interviewed — and that no one had corroborated the account of Ford, the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
“The president, the White House are firmly behind Brett Kavanaugh,” Shah said during an appearance Thursday morning on CNN. “We believe that all the Senate’s questions have been addressed through this supplemental FBI investigation.”
In an earlier tweet, Shah said the White House is “fully confident” that the Senate will confirm Kavanaugh, whose nomination has been roiled by the allegations of three women about his behavior more than three decades ago.
On Thursday morning, senators began filing in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to review the sensitive FBI report.
In morning tweets, Trump decried what he said was “harsh and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh, who has undergone previous FBI background checks for other federal jobs, and accused Democrats of obstructing the confirmation process.
“This is now the 7th. time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh,” Trump wrote. “If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats.”
This is now the 7th. time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh. If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2018
In his statement, Grassley said that “this investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service.”
In tweets starting around 4 a.m., Grassley announced that the panel had received the report from the White House and that he and its top Democrat had “agreed to alternating EQUAL access for senators to study content from additional background info gathered by nonpartisan FBI agents.”
The FBI’s report is available at a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in the Capitol Visitor Center, a secure room designed for senators to review sensitive or classified material, two Senate officials said. Just one physical copy of the report is available, and only to senators and 10 committee staffers cleared to view the material.
Even before the report was formally sent to the Senate, lawyers for Ford criticized what they viewed as an incomplete FBI probe.
[‘Unprecedented and unfathomable’: More than 1,000 law professors sign letter after Kavanaugh hearing]
“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation,” her legal team said in a statement. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”
On Thursday, a lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself while in college, sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray making the same claim.
The letter noted that Ramirez had been interviewed by the FBI for two hours Sunday in Colorado and later provided a list of 20 people who might corroborate her account of Kavanaugh’s behavior.
“Fewer than four days, later, however, the FBI apparently has concluded its investigation — without permitting its agents to investigate,” wrote Ramirez lawyer William Pittard. “We are deeply disappointed by this failure.”
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, also took issue Wednesday with the decision not to interview Ford and Kavanaugh, both of whom testified at a high-stakes hearing last week, suggesting that the White House had prevented the FBI from contacting them.
“Last week’s hearing is no substitute for FBI interviews, especially when you consider the tenor of Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony,” Feinstein said in a statement. “When he wasn’t yelling and demeaning senators, he was making misleading statements that cast doubt on his overall trustworthiness. I don’t think that would happen with FBI agents seated across the table.”
The reopened FBI investigation was prompted by reservations expressed last by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) about moving forward on a full Senate vote without further examination of the accusations of Ford and other “credible” accusers.
Even as the White House gave the FBI permission to broaden its examination, it continued to hold the bureau to a strict timeline.
Moreover, the inquiry focused mainly on the account of Ford, the research psychologist who alleges that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in the Washington suburbs.
[McGahn’s last stand: The White House counsel has been working feverishly to get Kavanaugh confirmed]
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House had restricted the FBI from scrutinizing the nominee’s drinking habits, as well as possible disparities between his alcohol consumption as a young man and his account before Congress.
Much of the focus Thursday will be on the reactions of three Republicans whose votes are considered key to Kavanaugh’s fate: Flake, Collins and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
On Wednesday, all three took issue with Trump’s mocking of Ford the night before at a political rally in Mississippi that drew laughs from his supporters.
“What I want is I want to see the report,” Murkowski told reporters last night. “That’s what I’m waiting for.”
Besides Flake, Collins and Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) also have yet to announce how they will vote.
While trying to round up votes on his side, McConnell has also taken sharp aim at Democrats, accusing them of trying to “move the goal posts” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight by suggesting that Friday would be too soon for a key vote on him.
Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis, Tom Hamburger and Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.