Brett Kavanaugh Hearing

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Trump Approves FBI Investigation Before Final Kavanaugh Vote

September 29, 2018 - 10:00 am

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) — Reversing course, President Donald Trump bowed to Democrats' demands Friday for a deeper FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake balked at voting for confirmation without it — a sudden turn that left Senate approval newly uncertain amid allegations of sexual assault.

Kavanaugh's nomination had appeared back on track earlier Friday when he cleared a key hurdle at the Senate Judiciary Committee. But that advance came with an asterisk. Flake indicated he would take the next steps — leading to full Senate approval — only after the further background probe, and there were suggestions that other moderate Republicans might join his revolt.

The abrupt developments gave senators, the White House and millions of Americans following the drama at home hardly a chance to catch their breath after Thursday's emotional Senate hearing featuring Kavanaugh angrily defending himself and accuser Christine Blasey Ford determinedly insisting he assaulted her when they were teens.

Emotions were still running high Friday, and protesters confronted senators in the halls.

"The country is being ripped apart here," said Flake.

Flake had earlier said he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, but at the hearing Friday said he would only do so if the investigation took place.

“For a man who’s not running for reelection and who’s not a lawyer, it seems like he was trapped in an elevator for a moment and became a prisoner of conscience as he heard some women express their disappointment that the investigation would not continue,” said CBS News Legal Analyst Thane Rosenbaum.

No action was taken on the proposal at the hearing Friday. Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) abruptly adjourned the hearing due to a "two-hour rule" while discussion of an investigation was under way.

But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said later Friday afternoon that Republican leaders will indeed allow up to a week for the background investigation. The Judiciary Committee said it will ask President Donald Trump for an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh and wants it completed by Oct. 5.

Trump authorized the investigation late Friday afternoon.

“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,” Trump said in a statement.

The president had previously refused to order an investigation.

“He can say to them, ‘I think it’s too important to put Judge Kavanaugh on the court immediately. He can just simply say, ‘I’m not going to allow the FBI to conduct the investigation,” Rosenbaum told WCBS 880’s Joe Avellar and Kevin Rincon. “Again, that would be unprecedented, but a lot of things with President Trump are unprecedented.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must also approve the delay of the vote.

"If Senator McConnell does not agree and demands that they begin to vote on Monday, I think there would be some defection," said Ross Baker, who teaches political science at Rutgers University.

There are also questions about whether the FBI investigation will make a difference at this point. Speaking to WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell, Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer noted that the Senate is working backwards.

"The whole point of the FBI investigation (is to) do it before the hearing, so when they had the hearing, they could then use that information to make a more educated kind of inquiry into what happened,” Zelizer said, “but they didn't do that."

Also Friday, Mark Judge – the high school friend of Kavanaugh’s who Ford said was president when Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted her, said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee that he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency that would "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh.

Judge also said he "categorically" denies sexual misconduct allegations made by Julie Swetnick.

In a sworn statement released Wednesday, Swetnick accused Kavanaugh and Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations.

When Ford came public with her allegations naming Judge and Kavanaugh specifically, Judge released a statement through his lawyer saying that he did not recall the incident. He also said that he "never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes."

He reiterated that statement in another letter sent to the Judiciary Committee on Thursday. He said that he did "not want to comment about these events publicly," and that he did "not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony."

Despite Democrats' calls for Judge to be brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify as a witness, Republicans declined to bring him before the committee.

Judge, the author of a memoir called "Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk," has struggled with alcohol addiction.

In her testimony before the Senate Thursday, Ford said that Kavanaugh and Judge had brought her into a room at a house party in the summer of 1982. She said that Kavanaugh had groped her, grinded against her, attempted to remove her clothes and covered her mouth with his hand as she attempted to shout. Meanwhile, she said that Judge stood nearby and laughed.

Meanwhile, there were signs the remarkable testimony before the panel a day earlier — in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford calmly recounting the moment in which she says he attacked her — had registered negatively with two organizations whose support Kavanaugh had earlier received.

The American Bar Association, which previously gave Kavanaugh its highest rating of "well qualified," called for an FBI investigation.

Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee said it would ask for an investigation, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the idea, telling reporters that Kavanaugh has already "been through six separate background investigations by the FBI."

Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States withdrew its endorsement of Kavanaugh, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and "should be withdrawn."

"If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman's report of an assault," the America magazine editors wrote. "Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country."

The magazine's reversal is significant given Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.

Former President George W. Bush has been advocating for Kavanaugh with wavering senators in recent days, according to a person familiar with Bush's outreach who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

The White House said it was also engaging with wavering GOP senators, but provided few details. Trump is publicly standing by his nominee.

"His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," he tweeted late Thursday. "The Senate must vote!"

Republicans have slim 11-10 majority on the committee. With Flake's support, Kavanaugh's nomination is expected to clear the committee and go to the full Senate.

The Senate could begin taking procedural votes over the weekend ahead of a final confirmation vote early next week.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)