Kavanaugh nomination: Senate panel advances Supreme Court hopeful after Flake calls for FBI probe

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After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the Supreme Court (AP)

After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the Supreme Court after agreeing to a late call from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one week investigation into sexual assault allegations against the high court nominee.

However, it's unclear if Republican leaders - or President Donald Trump - will support Flake's call for the investigation or might instead press forward with a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh's nomination.

The dramatic scene unfolded a day after Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in an emotional, hours-long hearing. Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations that he assaulted Ford while they were both in high school, while she said she was "100 percent" certain he was her attacker.

Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of the drama and uncertainty. On Friday morning, he announced that he would support Kavanaugh's nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, implored him to change his mind.

After huddling privately with his colleagues, Flake announced that he would vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge. Democrats have been calling for such an investigation, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it's unnecessary.

Meanwhile, there were signs that Thursday's remarkable testimony before the panel - in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford recounted 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," asked the Senate committee and the full Senate to delay their votes until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims - something President Donald Trump has refused to order. Grassley, too, has refused.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed that Friday, 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" 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."

Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.

Meanwhile, 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.

Flake's decision has been among the most watched, and he had told reporters it was "a tough call" as he left the Capitol late Thursday.

The Arizonan had been holed up with other key senators - Collins, Murkowski, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia - after the daylong hearing in Collins' hide-away office on the third floor in the Capitol.

At the private meeting of GOP senators late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led a round of applause for Grassley as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham after the South Carolina senator's dramatic defense of Kavanaugh at the hearing.

But Collins raised questions, including her interest in hearing testimony from Judge, according to a GOP aide familiar with the session but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity. To satisfy her, the committee released a letter from Judge reiterating late Thursday that he did not recall the incident and explaining that as a "recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor" he has "struggled with depression and anxiety" and avoids public speaking. It was unclear if that resolved Collins' interest in asking him to appear.

Thursday's testimony appeared to have only sharpened the partisan divide over Trump's nominee. Republicans praised Ford's bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won't affect their support for Kavanaugh.

At the daylong session, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse - perhaps the only thing they agreed on.

Telling her story in person for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory - and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act - was "locked" in her brain, she said: "100 percent." Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy,'" he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials. Trump's tweet later used the same "search and destroy" language.

Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.

"I welcome whatever the committee wants to do," he said.

Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Related Topics:
politicssexual assaultsexual misconductbrett kavanaughchristine blasey fordrepublicansdemocratssupreme courtu.s. supreme courtpolitical scandalu.s. & world
(Copyright ©2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)



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