With the FBI Investigation Complete, Kavanaugh Confirmation Fight Nears End

The FBI‘s extended background check into sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court is complete and the wheels are in motion for a final confirmation vote this weekend. The 46-page confidential report, which was made available to Senators Thursday morning, reportedly does not corroborate the allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh. Republicans and Democrats had starkly different reactions to the report. While Republicans seemed largely satisfied with the FBI’s work, Democrats maintained that the report wasn’t sufficiently comprehensive.

Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement Thursday morning, stating, “there’s nothing that we didn’t already know.” Mr. Grassley said that the report provided no convincing evidence to confirm the allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh. “This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service,” he added.

Corey Booker, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, unsurprisingly, disputed Mr. Grassley’s characterization of the report. “In plain English what I just read, there are hints of misconduct.” Echoing the standard line Democrats have been taking all day, Mr. Booker said that not enough witnesses had been interviewed. So, it’s very frustrating that they didn’t do a thorough investigation that they didn’t interview all the relevant witnesses. They didn’t interview all the potential eyewitnesses,” Booker said.

What Was In the FBI Report

We don’t know what is actually in the report in any detail. But, we do know that the FBI interviewed some additional witnesses over the past week. This included Mark Judge, Mr. Kavanaugh’s high school friend whom Christine Blasey Ford says was in the room 36-years ago when she alleges Mr. Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and attempted to remove her clothing. Mr. Judge’s interview accounted for nine of the 46 pages of interviews included in the report.

While we don’t know what Mr. Judge said to the FBI, in earlier statements made to the Senate Judiciary Committee under penalty of felony, Mr. Judge said he had no recollection of the party Ms. Ford described nor the incident involving Mr. Kavanaugh. There’s no reason to believe he said anything different in his FBI interview.

What Wasn’t In the FBI Report

The FBI apparently did not interview Ms. Ford and other witnesses that Democrats say were relevant. An official explanation for why the FBI chose to forgo an interview with Ms. Ford and others has yet to be offered. However, it is likely that given the compressed timeframe, the FBI chose to focus on only the witnesses likely to add meaningful new information. Ms. Ford’s testimony at last week’s hearing was, in this view, sufficient.

In a letter released Thursday morning, Ms. Ford’s attorneys blasted FBI Director Chris Wray for not interviewing Ms. Ford or eight witnesses she suggested. However, there was no indication from that letter that any of them could corroborate the events of 36 years ago Ms. Ford described. With the exception of her husband, most only learned of her allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh relatively recently. For the most part, the information they offered is either undisputed or already known and four of the eight have already provided sworn statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Interviewing them again was arguably redundant.

The FBI did interview Deborah Ramirez, a Yale Classmate who alleges that Mr. Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a night of heavy drinking in their freshman-year dorm. However, Ms. Ramirez concedes that her memory of the incident is hazy and she was initially uncertain that it was in fact Mr. Kavanaugh. But, she says she recalls seeing Mr. Kavanaugh thrust his hips forward as if he were pulling up his pants and heard another student shouting that, “Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face.”

No witnesses have yet come forward that can corroborate the incident first-hand. However Kenneth Appold, one of Mr. Kavanaugh’s freshman year suitemates told the New Yorker earlier this week that he heard about the incident from another classmate soon after it happened. Yet, when The New Yorker contacted the person whom Mr. Appold said told him about it, the person had no recollection of the incident. Mrs. Ramirez’s lawyers complained that the FBI had not followed up with Mr. Appold and others. But, from the public reporting it’s unclear it would have made a great deal of difference if they had.

The Undecideds

Senators Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins remain undecided about how they will vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Whatever was or wasn’t in the FBI report, most Senators made up their mind about Brett Kavanaugh long ago. What really matters is whether three key undecided GOP Senators felt it sufficient. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have all been on the fence about Kavanaugh. Assuming no Democrats break ranks, at least two of the three will need to vote yes for the Senate to confirm him.

Ms. Collins and Mr. Flake have both indicated that they were satisfied with the FBI’s investigation. Ms. Murkowski said she’s still reviewing the report.

After an initial review of the report this morning, Ms. Collins told reporters that “it appears to be a very thorough investigation.” She said she planned to go back this afternoon to read it in greater detail. Mr. Flake agreed, adding, “We’ve seen no additional corroborating information [in the FBI report].”

While neither Senator has yet committed to voting yes, their positive comments can be taken as an encouraging sign. A yes vote from Flake and Collins alone would be enough to confirm Mr. Kavanaugh.

The truth of what really happened remains remains as uncertain now as it did last week. Democrats say the FBI’s investigation is insufficient, Republicans are ready to move on. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader plans to hold a procedural vote on cloture Friday. This will allow no more than thirty hours of additional debate, meaning that a final vote on the nomination could come as soon as Saturday or Sunday.

No matter how expansive, the FBI’s background investigation was never likely to satisfy anyone completely. Definitively refuting or confirming an allegation of sexual misconduct from 36 years ago at a party no one remembers, at a house Dr. Ford can’t locate, and on a date she can’t recall is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Ms. Ramirez’s allegation is equivalently difficult to verify. Cases don’t get much colder than these.

Still, the die is cast and the Kavanaugh confirmation saga has entered its final chapter. Barring something unexpected, the fate of Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court will be decided this weekend.


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