US President Donald Trump ordered a new FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against his Supreme Court pick Friday, as the Senate delayed a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to make way for the probe.
After a dramatic day-long hearing at which a university professor accused Kavanaugh of pinning her down and assaulting her at a party in the 1980s, the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier Friday approved his nomination in a preliminary vote along party lines.
But committee chair Chuck Grassley then bowed to intense pressure from inside and outside Congress and announced he was asking Trump to order the new background review that “must be completed no later than one week from today.” Trump, who repeatedly blasted Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh as a political “con-job,” agreed.
“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,” the president said in a statement. Trump’s order and the decision to put off a final vote came after a key Republican senator, Jeff Flake, threatened to break ranks with his party because of the clouds hanging over Kavanaugh’s head.
At least three women have now accused the 53-year-old conservative judge of sexual misconduct while drunk, as a high school and later a university student. Democrats have repeatedly demanded those charges be assessed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if he is suitable for the lifetime high court appointment. Flake’s stunning 11th-hour move played out on national television amid heated partisan debate and raucous protests in the halls of the Capital, where one woman cornered the Arizona senator in an elevator demanding he oppose Kavanaugh, citing her own experience with sexual assault.
“This country’s being ripped apart,” said Flake. “And we have to ensure that we do due diligence here.” His move earned the endorsement of another Republican seen as wavering on the nomination, Lisa Murkowski. With the Republicans holding a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, that placed pressure on Trump to order the FBI probe. Republicans see Kavanaugh as pivotal to their gaining control of the nine-member Supreme Court bench. Trump nominated him to replace Anthony Kennedy, who for years was a swing vote between four conservative and four liberal justices.