The delay is the latest twist in the riveting drama playing out on Capitol Hill, after Kavanaugh’s confirmation was thrown into doubt when Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her claim that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school in the early 1980s.
At a hearing on Friday, Flake joined with the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor, but said he would not feel comfortable voting yes in a full Senate vote “until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already.”
“This country is being ripped apart here,” Flake said. “We have got to make sure that we do due diligence.”
Later, at the request of the Judiciary Committee, President Trump ordered the FBI to investigate “current credible allegations” against Kavanaugh, to be completed on Oct. 5.
In a statement issued by the White House, Kavanaugh said, “I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate.”
Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s claims, as well as those of two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, who accused him of misconduct in other incidents. It is not clear whether the FBI will investigate all of the claims or just those made by Ford.
In hours of riveting testimony on Thursday, Ford appeared before the Judiciary Committee, and claimed that at a high school party around 1982, she was pulled into a bedroom, pinned down by Kavanaugh and groped, and that she thought he was trying to rape her. But in a 45-minute statement in the afternoon, Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations and criticized the process as a partisan hit.
Kavanaugh’s denial and defiance seemed to convince Republicans that Kavanaugh’s nomination should move forward.
Just minutes before Friday’s hearing was scheduled to begin, Flake announced that he would vote yes.
“I wish that I could express the confidence that some of my colleagues have conveyed about what either did or did not happen in the early 1980s, but I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty,” Flake said in a statement. “What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence.”
Soon after, as he headed to the hearing, he was confronted by protesters over his planned vote. In a moment that was captured live on TV, one woman said she was a sexual assault survivor, and told him, “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.” Some asked why there couldn’t be a delay for an investigation.
As Friday’s hearing stretched into the late morning, Flake huddled in an anteroom with some of the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). As a 1:30 p.m. vote approached, it became clear that Flake was engaged in serious discussions on a way forward, particularly with the sharp partisan divisions among committee members.
Three of its Democratic members, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), had walked out in protest after Republicans rejected Blumenthal’s motion to subpoena Mark Judge, one of Kavanaugh’s high school friends who Ford said was an accomplice in the incident.
They argued that Republicans were proceeding without a FBI investigation of Ford’s claims and that of other accusers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said, “While the Republican strategy is no longer attack the victim. It is, ignore the victim.”
“Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle had their minds made up before one word was uttered,” she said, adding that “this was not about ensuring a fair process. This was about doing the bare minimum.”
She also criticized the partisan nature of Kavanaugh’s testimony, including a claim that he was the victim of a “search and destroy effort” by Democrats and that it was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” “Unbelievable,” she said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said an investigation could examine evidence that could corroborate some of Ford’s timeline of events. He cited Kavanaugh’s calendar from 1982, which includes an entry on July 1 that refers to a meeting with friends. That includes references to individuals who Ford says were at the party where the alleged assault took place.
The American Bar Association, in a letter from its president, urged a delay in the vote. The group has called Kavanaugh “well-qualified,” but in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the group’s president, Robert Carlson, wrote that “the basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and the facts by the F.B.I.”
But Republicans expressed skepticism that the FBI would be able to discern any more than what the committee has already obtained. Judge said in a letter to the committee that he had no recollection of the events described by Ford.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Judge’s statement was sufficient, and Republicans noted that it was made under penalty of a felony if he was lying. After Flake’s request for a delay, Judge indicated that he would cooperate with an investigation.
At the very least, the delay may serve as a cooling off period for members of the Judiciary Committee, who have been engaged in ever-escalating verbal warfare throughout the confirmation process.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused the Democrats of seeking to delay the Kavanaugh nomination in hopes of keeping the seat vacant until the 2020 presidential elections. As he did in a fiery speech on Thursday, he said they were willing to sully Kavanaugh’s character for partisan aims.
“If we reward this, it is the end of good people wanting to be judges,” he said.
He said if Republicans hold the Senate, and he gets the chairmanship, “I am going to remember this,” adding that “if you try to destroy somebody, you will not get away with it.”
Democrats have lingering recently over Senate Republicans refusal in 2016 to even hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court to succeed Antonin Scalia. Klobuchar said that when she hears the “sanctimonious talk” of Republicans complaining that Democrats are obstructing Kavanaugh’s nomination, “I will just say, Merrick Garland.”
At Friday’s hearing, Democratic members of the House filled gallery seats and, in a moment of protest, stood up and stared as Republicans moved forward with the Kavanaugh nomination. As standing during the hearing is a violation of rules, they exited before they were ejected by a Capitol Police officer.
At a rally in front of the Supreme Court included Alyssa Milano and Joan Baez among the speakers. Demonstrators later marched to the Hart Senate Office Building. Some chanted, “We believe survivors.”