Published 9:26 AM EDT Oct 1, 2018
WASHINGTON – After a week in which some of the most explosive allegations ever lodged against a Supreme Court nominee were aired in public, this week begins with questions about an FBI investigation happening in private that could help decide whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh makes it to the nation’s highest court.
Democrats scored a victory Friday when Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called for the FBI to spend a week following up on sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. Those include accusations by Christine Blasey Ford, who said a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school. He vehemently denied all the allegations.
The question of whether the White House was interfering with the FBI investigation dominated Sunday talk shows. The White House said it was not.
"I'm very concerned about this, because the White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on CNN’s "State of the Union."
More: White House is not involved with FBI investigation into Kavanaugh allegations, officials say
More: Sen. Lindsey Graham seeks investigation of 'despicable process' behind Kavanaugh hearing
Here’s a look at the developments:
Last week’s drama
In emotional testimony that riveted viewers Thursday, Ford told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she is "100 percent" sure that a drunken, 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her down at a party in 1982, groped her and covered her mouth when she tried to scream. Kavanaugh, testifying after Ford, blamed the allegations on “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Donald Trump and the 2016 election."
Trump’s order Friday for the FBI to reopen its investigation into Kavanaugh’s background came after Flake called for the weeklong inquiry during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on the nomination.
Flake said he would vote to advance the nomination out of the committee, but he would feel comfortable "moving forward" on the Senate floor only if the FBI conducted the additional investigation. Three other senators who are swing votes – Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. – supported the move.
“I think that we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake said, hours after releasing a statement that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
Flake said there wasn't a single moment that influenced him, but he was shaken after being cornered in an elevator as he headed to the committee meeting by two people who said they had survived sexual assaults.
"You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter," one woman said, her remarks captured by TV cameras.
Flake called for the one-week investigation as part of a compromise he struck with his friend Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., who argued Friday that the additional inquiry was “about the court’s legitimacy.”
After voting to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination, the Republican-led committee requested the supplemental FBI investigation Friday, calling for it to be "limited to current credible allegations against the nominee" and saying it "must be completed no later than one week from today."
'FBI's hands must not be tied'
More sparring continued along partisan lines during the weekend after a lawyer claimed that his client’s accusations against Kavanaugh weren’t treated seriously. After Ford and Deborah Ramirez came forward, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct and claimed she was gang-raped at a party decades ago.
"This investigation is only as good as the scope," Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Swetnick, told USA TODAY. "If the scope doesn't include my client and the others who have accused Mr. Kavanaugh, how can it be a credible investigation?"
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that the "FBI's hands must not be tied in this investigation."
"We need the facts," she wrote.
When the White House announced the investigation last week, the president said it "must be limited in scope."
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union” that the inquiry was “not meant to be a fishing expedition,” but it’s up to the FBI to determine what “limited scope” means.
As he left Saturday for a rally in West Virginia, Trump said FBI agents have "free rein" over the investigation.
“Whatever it is they do, they'll be doing things that we've never even thought of,” he said.
The FBI declined to comment.
FBI agents will probably seek to question anyone who Ford said attended the gathering where the alleged assault happened. That includes Kavanaugh's high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room. Judge said in a statement that he has "no memory" of such an incident but that he would cooperate with law enforcement.
Agents will probably talk to P.J. Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, who Ford said attended the party. Both issued statements indicating that they no recollection of the gathering.
The FBI reached out to Ramirez, a former Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, who said he exposed himself to her at a drunken party, Ramirez’s attorney, John Clune, told USA TODAY.
It's unclear whether agents will investigate claims from Swetnick, who alleged that Kavanaugh and Judge attempted to ply teenage girls with alcohol at wild parties where girls were sexually abused.
Former FBI officials told USA TODAY the agency has considerable resources to dedicate to special investigations.
“They could knock this thing out in a couple of days,” said Jim Davis, a former agent who participated in at least 50 such background inquiries.
Results of the investigation will be handed over to the White House, which will be responsible for turning them over to senators for review. A full Senate vote could happen this week.
Republicans hold a slim 51-seat majority and can afford to lose only one vote if all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh. In that case, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tiebreaking vote.
Kavanaugh said Thursday he would not voluntarily withdraw.
“You may defeat me in the final vote,” he said. “But you'll never get me to quit. Never."
Contributing: Eliza Collins, Richard Wolf, Christal Hayes, Donovan Slack, Jessica Estepa