WASHINGTON — The battle to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh took yet another unexpected twist on Friday afternoon. Just before the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) interjected with a proposal to delay a vote on the Senate floor so that the FBI could conduct a brief investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others.
Democrats have repeatedly called for an FBI probe since Ford publicly alleged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when she was 15 and he was 17. Republicans initially resisted the idea, and Kavanaugh refused to answer at Thursday’s hearing whether he supported an FBI investigation. Flake’s idea appears to have been hammered out in closed-door negotiations with Democratic and Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee shortly before the Friday vote.
“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week,” Flake said, “to allow the FBI to do an investigation limited in time and scope.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who is also seen as a potential no vote, said she supported the one-week FBI investigation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a centrist Democrat who faces a tough reelection bid this year, said in a statement that he supported Flake’s plan as well.
Later on Friday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee announced it would ask President Trump to order a “supplemental” investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. The committee’s statement said the new FBI investigation should be finished by October 5. Just before 5 p.m., Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement from Trump that said he’d ordered the FBI to “conduct a supplemental investigation” into the allegations.
Statement from President @realDonaldTrump:
“I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file. As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 28, 2018
Here’s what that really means: After Flake offered his compromise and got verbal commitments from his fellow Republicans, the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor, which will ultimately determine whether or not Kavanaugh ends up on the Supreme Court. In theory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will now wait to call a full vote on Kavanaugh until the FBI investigation finishes. But there is no guarantee that McConnell won’t call the vote for early next week — only the threat of Flake and other Senate Republicans voting no would dissuade McConnell.
We’re left in limbo. On one hand, Democrats may get the FBI investigation they wanted, and Flake managed to save face after a dramatic confrontation with anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators Friday morning who voiced their own experiences of sexual abuse. But this is no substitute for a thorough investigation and vetting of the sexual assault allegations made by three women against Kavanaugh. If the FBI turns up new inconsistencies and details in Kavanaugh’s story, the Judiciary Committee’s members won’t have the chance to question Kavanaugh further — they just voted him out of committee.