Senators spent Thursday morning going in to a secure basement room of the US Congress to review the report of a limited FBI background check investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused by at least three women of sexual misconduct, allegations Kavanaugh strongly denies.
Here’s how it played out. Last Friday, in what looked – against all expectation – like a genuine act of conscience, Republican Senator Jeff Flake said he would only vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to advance to the Senate if the FBI investigates the allegations against the judge. The report from that investigation was given to the Senate Republican leadership on Wednesday evening, and shown to senators from both parties in small groups on Thursday.
Predictably, the Republicans have treated the report, whose text is not yet public, as a confirmation of Kavanaugh’s innocence. But Democrats have cried foul, pointing to the fact that the probe was extremely limited in scope and failed to interview either the victim of the alleged crime, the perpetrator of the alleged crime, or a large number of key witnesses.
In an excoriating letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray that was released to the public Thursday morning, the lawyer representing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, detailed how the investigation failed to interview either Ford or Kavanaugh to attempt to corroborate her story. Nor did they interview Mark Judge, the only witness to the alleged assault. In fact, the FBI failed to interview any of the witnesses whose names were sent to them and who might have been able to corroborate any of the details of the story.
Many of those witnesses volunteered themselves to the FBI for their investigation and were rebuffed, The New Yorker reported on Wednesday evening.
“This nominee should be confirmed Saturday,” Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. He indicated that Kavanaugh could be confirmed to the court as soon as Saturday. His colleague Orrin Hatch said that “the politics of baseless personal destruction has no place here,” and apologised to Kavanaugh “for the way he’s been treated.”
In an angry rant, Grassley hit out at the media, saying that “this is almost rock bottom.”
“I would never use the word fake news,” Grassley said in what was almost a shout, “but I want to show you where some of you have bias.” Asked about the limitations placed on the FBI investigation, Grassley demurred to his fellow senator Mike Lee, who said that it had been up to the White House. Trump had previously claimed it was up to the Senate. It is in that gap of responsibility that the cover-up was allowed to grow.
In fact, Trump lied dozens of times by saying that the FBI investigation had broad scope to interview whoever they wanted. This was never true. Of course it wasn’t. It was in no way in the White House’s interest to properly investigate the allegations into Kavanaugh.
Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, tweeted on Thursday morning: “I read the FBI report. This whole thing is a sham. This stunted, strangled investigation was designed to provide cover, not to provide the truth.” His colleague, Senator Bob Menendez, was more blunt: “if that’s an investigation, it’s a bullshit investigation,” he tweeted.
They’re right. And the review gives cover to the three potentially wavering Republican senators whose votes will be key to confirming Kavanaugh: Lisa Murkowsky, Jeff Flake, and Susan Collins. Whether any of them will find their conscience in time for Saturday’s vote is yet to be seen; none of them have definitively stated which way they will vote yet, and anything can happen in modern American politics.
But now that the FBI investigation has given them that cover, it seems extremely unlikely that any of them will break party ranks. And then, a second alleged sexual abuser will have a lifetime seat on the highest court in America. It’s not a great look.