John Wagner, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey
Washington |The White House prepared on Thursday (AEST) to send the FBI’s completed report on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate, as partisan rancour continued to grow over the scope of the investigation into sexual assault allegations that have endangered his confirmation.
The latest FBI probe updating Kavanaugh’s background check was set to arrive on Wednesday night (local time) on Capitol Hill, according to two people familiar with its release. White House officials have been briefed on the FBI’s findings, the people said.
In anticipation of the report’s arrival, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell teed up a key vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday. Until that vote, senators will be rushing in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to review the sensitive FBI report that the bureau has compiled, looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.
“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday closure vote,” McConnell said on Wednesday night in Washington.
The developments came as Senate Democrats opened a new front in their objections to the investigations of Kavanaugh’s conduct, suggesting in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley that past FBI background checks of Kavanaugh include evidence of inappropriate behaviour, without disclosing specifics.
The letter, signed by eight of the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, challenged the accuracy of a tweet from the committee’s Republican staff on Tuesday that said: “Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which the committee has reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there ever a whiff of ANY issue – at all – related in any way to inappropriate sexual behaviour or alcohol abuse.”
The Democrats said the information in the tweet was “not accurate,” urging the GOP to correct it.
“It is troubling that the committee majority has characterised information from Judge Kavanaugh’s confidential background investigation on Twitter, as that information is confidential and not subject to public release,” the Democrats, led by Senator Richard Durbin, wrote to Grassley. “If the committee majority is going to violate that confidentiality and characterise this background investigation publicly, you must at least be honest about it.”
Grassley’s staff responded on Twitter that “nothing in the tweet is inaccurate or misleading.”
“The committee stands by its statement, which is completely truthful,” the committee Republicans said. “More baseless innuendo and more false smears from Senate Democrats.”
Once the FBI report is sent to the Hill, it will be available at a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in the Capitol Visitor Centre, a secure room designed for senators to review sensitive or classified material, two Senate officials said. Just one physical copy of the report will be available, and only to senators and 10 committee staffers cleared to view the material.
The two parties will take turns having access to the FBI report in shifts, according to a senior Senate official. For example, Republicans will spend an hour with the report and then Democrats will have an hour with the report. It will rotate throughout the rest of the day on Thursday and potentially into Friday, with senators being briefed by staff members simultaneously.
But even before the report was formally sent to the Senate, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford – the first woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault – criticised what they viewed as an incomplete FBI probe.
“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.”
Earlier on Wednesday, a trio of Republican senators crucial to Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects criticised President Donald Trump for mocking the account of a woman who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault decades ago.
In separate interviews, Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – considered swing votes on Kavanaugh – took issue with comments the president made the night before at a political rally in Mississippi that drew laughs from his supporters.
“There’s no time and no place for remarks like that,” Flake said on NBC’s Today show. “To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. It’s just not right. I wish he hadn’t done it . . . . It’s kind of appalling.”
Flake, the Judiciary Committee member who pushed to delay the vote on Kavanaugh so the FBI could investigate, later told The Washington Post that Trump’s comments would not factor into his thinking on the nomination.
“You can’t take it out on other people, the president’s insensitive remarks,” he said.
The impact on Collins and Murkowski was less clear.
About two hours after Flake’s appearance, Collins also took exception to Trump’s remarks, telling reporters: “The president’s comments were just plain wrong.” She did not answer a question about whether the comments could affect how she votes on Kavanaugh.
Speaking to reporters early on Wednesday afternoon (Thursday AEST), Murkowski said: “I thought the president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr Ford were wholly inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable.”
Asked whether the comments would affect her vote, she said: “I am taking everything into account.”