Senate Republicans said on Thursday that the FBI had sufficiently investigated allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and turned up no corroboration of the claims made by two of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.
Democrats were quick to push back on that characterization of the highly anticipated report, arguing that the probe was deliberately limited by the White House and suggesting, without elaborating, that there were problematic details yet to be made public about Kavanaugh’s past.
The back and forth was an extension of the already intense bitterness that has accompanied the nomination fight for weeks. But in this latest round came indications that Kavanaugh is likely on track for a narrow Senate confirmation this weekend. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the key undecided Republicans, indicated to reporters that she was satisfied about the scope of the FBI probe. Another crucial GOP vote, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), said the report showed “no additional corroborating information.”
Republicans were projecting confidence as if victory was near. In a statement released just as Republican senators were beginning to view the report behind closed doors, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said his staff had briefed him on the investigation, which he said turned up no evidence of misconduct.
“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,” Grassley said.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) pushed back on Grassley’s suggestion that the FBI found “no hint” of misconduct.
“I think it’s very difficult to find a basis for that conclusion. It raised many questions—more than it answered,” Durbin told The Daily Beast after reading the report.
But other Republicans echoed Grassley as they emerged from a secure area in the Capitol on Thursday morning where they were briefed on the FBI’s findings. They said the Senate should proceed with Kavanaugh’s nomination later this week. Barring any last-minute hurdles, a procedural vote will occur on Friday and a final confirmation vote could come as early as Saturday.
Such a timeline was not so certain as recently as late last week. The FBI probe was set into motion on Friday when Flake teamed up with Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) to ask for an investigation into the sexual-misconduct allegations. Flake said he would only vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless an FBI probe was conducted, and he was backed up by two other undecided GOP senators, Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
The White House said the FBI ultimately contacted 10 people as part of its investigation. Nine of those individuals replied, according to Republican senators who saw the report. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters that four individuals were interviewed about allegations made by Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party inside a college dorm when they were freshmen at Yale.
The five remaining individuals were interviewed about allegations made by Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
Kavanaugh has denied all of the allegations.
Kennedy, for his part, said he saw nothing that backed up the claims made by either woman.
But Democrats had demanded that the FBI interview more than two dozen witnesses, including Ford and Kavanaugh—both of whom were not questioned. Ford’s lawyers, as well as those for Ramirez, had offered up additional witnesses to the FBI. Both legal teams said that those witnesses were not contacted as part of the probe.
Later Thursday, Ford’s lawyers released the names of the additional witnesses whom they said were ignored by the FBI. They also criticized the bureau for its decision to not interview Ford herself.
“As [Ford] testified before the Judiciary Committee, she was eager to talk to the FBI,” the letter said. “The ‘investigation’ conducted over the past five days is a stain on the process, on the FBI and on our American ideal of justice.”
Democrats were equally critical of the investigation, arguing that it was too limited in scope and did not consider the accounts of individuals who offered to testify and whose recollections of Kavanaugh in high school and college could refute some of his under-oath statements.
“The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, told reporters. “What we reviewed today ... it looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the report should be made public “with proper redactions,” and called on the White House to disclose the directive it sent to the FBI regarding the scope of the investigation. Coons, the key Democrat involved in the effort to prompt an FBI investigation, said his expectations were not met.
“There will be folks disappointed who say this does not clearly and completely exonerate Judge Kavanaugh. There will be folks disappointed saying this does not clearly coroborate Dr. Ford,” Coons said. “That’s in the nature of both an investigation and a compromise.”
Just one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), remains undecided. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) announced shortly after reading the FBI report that she would oppose Kavanaugh. All other Democrats are opposed to Kavanaugh, who needs 50 votes in order to be confirmed to the high court.
—Additional reporting by Jackie Kucinich