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Make No Mistake: Jeff Flake Is Playing Politics

The outgoing Arizona senator is providing political cover for Republicans who want to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

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UPDATE: The New York Times reported on Monday that the White House has expanded the scope of the investigation into the claims of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh. The FBI will now be permitted to interview “anyone it deems necessary as long the review is finished by the end of the week,” according to the Times.

The expansion of the investigation comes after a weekend of criticism from Democrats over the strict set of parameters White House legal counsel Don McGahn was reported to have given the FBI. Among the restrictions was that the FBI could only interview four witnesses, two of which were friends of Kavanaugh’s. While speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, President Trump said that he wants “a very comprehensive investigation, whatever that means, according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority.”

Sen. Flake also called for a thorough investigation while speaking at an event in Boston. “It does no good to have an investigation that gives us more cover, for example,” he said. “We actually have find out what we can find out.”

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The morning after Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a statement announcing that he would be voting to move Kavanaugh out of committee and advance his confirmation process later that day. As Flake was making his way to do so, he was confronted by protesters in an elevator. Visibly uncomfortable, Flake’s eyes darted between the elevator’s buttons and the woman berating his decision to confirm a man who had been accused of violent sexual assault. “I have to go to the hearing,” he said. That hearing turned out to be a mess, and though Flake did indeed vote to approve Kavanaugh, he also called for a “limited” FBI investigation into the claims against the Supreme Court nominee.

Flake has essentially been on a promotional tour ever since. On Sunday night, he and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) went on 60 Minutes, which had no problem lionizing the outgoing senator as a hero of bipartisanship. “I just knew that as a country we couldn’t mover forward — that I couldn’t move forward — without hitting the pause button,” Flake said. “What I was seeing, experiencing in an elevator, and watching it in committee and just thinking, ‘This is ripping our country apart.'”

Both Flake and Coons admitted that there’s a chance nothing will have changed after the FBI is able to wrap up its investigation.

A day earlier, he and Coons appeared at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City. They both spoke of the importance of “gender equality.” Flake smiled a lot. He even referenced the previous day’s elevator confrontation. “Feel free to join me in an elevator any time,” he said. The audience jeered and Flake smiled again, this time a little more self-consciously.

While speaking with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on the sidelines of the event, Coons went so far as to call Flake a “hero” who “just needed some reassurance to listen to his own conscience and recognize the very real doubts he had at the end of Dr. Ford’s testimony — and which a number of other colleagues had — were worth taking a pause and investigating.”

But the FBI’s investigation already looks to be a sham, which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. According to the New York Times, the inquiry’s terms — which were dictated by White House legal counsel Don McGahn, a longtime friend of Kavanaugh’s — state that the FBI may only interview four witnesses: Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while at Yale; Mark Judge, whom Ford said was present for the alleged assault; PJ Smyth, a friend of Kavanaugh’s Ford says was at the party; and Leland Keyser, a friend Ford also says was at the party. They may not speak with others present at the July 1st party listed on Kavanaugh’s calendar, the description of which aligns with the event Ford described. They may not seek Judge’s employment records to corroborate Ford’s claim that she ran into him at Safeway six-to-eight weeks after the incident. They may not investigate Kavanaugh’s alcohol consumption or his alleged behavior while drunk. They may not investigate the meaning of items on Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page, the nature of which he appears to have lied about to the judiciary committee. In the days since NBC reported on the investigation’s scope, the Times and the New Yorker have reported that multiple people who have sought to provide the FBI with information corroborating claims made by his accusers have had difficulty doing so.

“What we are hearing are reports that they are somehow trying to limit this to a few witnesses or tell them what they should do,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said on Sunday. “While the White House decides who to nominate and then that person is submitted to a background check, I’ve never heard the White House, under this president or other presidents, say that you can’t interview this person, you can’t look at this time period, you can only look at these people from one side of the street where they were growing up. I mean, come on.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) — who, like Klobuchar, serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Flake and Coons — called the investigation a “farce.”

In response to criticism over the limited scope of the investigation, President Trump tweeted on Saturday night that he wants the FBI to “interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion.” Despite the tweet, NBC has reported that the constraints remain in place. On Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to McGahn and FBI Director Chris Wray asking that a copy of the directive to be provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The FBI investigation isn’t likely to find any sort of smoking gun proving conclusively that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, Ramirez or anyone else. This is because the Senate Republicans and the White House, which made sure to stipulate that the FBI is acting on its behalf, do not appear to want to scuttle Kavanaugh’s nomination. Flake, himself, is among those Senate Republicans whose end game is to confirm Kavanaugh. The nominee’s behavior on Thursday, the fact that he almost certainly lied to the Senate about a variety of issues and the mountain of credible statements, testimony and other evidence pointing to sexual assault or, at the very least, behavior that should preclude him from serving on the nation’s highest court, are pesky hindrances that need to be rationalized. For Flake, whose reputation depends on projecting some semblance of integrity, this is the only purpose of calling for an investigation.

One of those women, Ana Maria Archila, recently spoke with Michael Barbaro of the New York Times. “I feel worried like Senator Flake feels worried, about the state of our politics,” she said. “I think it is by forcing those who are elected to remember that they are not representing their party, they are representing people who have stories and experiences, whose lives are shaped every day by their decisions, that that is the role they should be playing. When they make decisions they have to be thinking about how they impact real humans.”

Though Flake may feel worried, his actions haven’t demonstrated any greater concern for “real humans” than that of his fellow Republicans. When asked on 60 Minutes whether he would have responded to the elevator confrontation the same way if he were up for reelection, his answer said it all: “No, not a chance.”

This post has been updated.

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