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Nation & World

Kavanaugh confirmation advances with caveat

Trump orders limited, one-week FBI investigation

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is mobbed by reporters Friday after emerging from a meeting with Senate leadership. Flake said he had declared his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a means of driving Democrats who backed a more open-ended FBI investigation to the bargaining table. (Bill O’Leary/Washington Post)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is mobbed by reporters Friday after emerging from a meeting with Senate leadership. Flake said he had declared his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a means of driving Democrats who backed a more open-ended FBI investigation to the bargaining table. (Bill O’Leary/Washington Post)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, under pressure from moderates in his own party over his Supreme Court nominee, Friday ordered an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh at the request of Senate Republicans, a move that will delay the confirmation process by a week.

The key player in a day of dramatic and unexpected developments was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a moderate Republican retiring from the Senate in January who provided the decisive vote to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination in the Judiciary Committee and send the matter to the full Senate.

But Flake, after urgent consultations, cast the vote only after asking the Republican-led panel to request that the Trump administration pursue an FBI probe lasting up to seven days.

Trump, who previously had rebuffed Democratic demands for an FBI review, granted the request, ordering the “supplemental investigation” to be “limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”

“Just started, tonight, our 7th FBI investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He will someday be recognized as a truly great Justice of The United States Supreme Court!,” Trump tweeted.

Flake’s move came a day after an extraordinary hearing in which university professor Christine Blasey Ford detailed her sexual assault allegation of three decades ago against Kavanaugh. Flake’s action also came only hours after two protesters who said they were sexual assault survivors cornered him in an elevator and castigated him for announcing he would vote for Kavanaugh.

“That’s what you’re telling all women in America — that they don’t matter, they should just keep it to themselves,” one of the protesters shouted at Flake, a frequent Trump critic.

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Flake later was supported by two other Republican moderates, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, both of whom have not announced how they’ll vote.

The allegations against Kavanaugh, with the backdrop of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault that has toppled a succession of powerful men, have riveted the country even as they have imperiled his confirmation.

Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge, for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court had appeared to be going smoothly until Ford’s allegation surfaced last week. He has denied her allegation and those from two other women.

In the hearing Thursday, Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in 1982 when they were high school students in Maryland.

In denying the account, Kavanaugh accused Democrats — who opposed his nomination from the start — of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.”

In a statement issued by the White House, Kavanaugh said he would cooperate with the FBI.

The controversy has unfolded just weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections in which Democrats are trying to seize control of Congress.

“This country’s being ripped apart here,” Flake told committee colleagues about the fight. “I think we can have a short pause,” he added.

“We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake said.

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Even before his move, it was unclear if Republicans had the votes on the Senate floor to confirm Kavanaugh. Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, making the votes of Murkowski and Collins crucial. Trump can afford to lose the vote of only one senator in his own party if all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh and Vice President Mike Pence breaks the tie.

Trump said Murkowski and Collins must do what they think is right.

Moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who have not announced how they will vote on Kavanaugh, also supported Flake’s move.

Trump indicated he was sticking with Kavanaugh, saying he has not thought “even a little bit” about replacing him.

With tempers flaring, the Judiciary Committee chaired by Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley advanced the nomination 11-10 along party lines.

Grassley had opposed an additional FBI investigation, but his office issued a statement Friday saying the committee requested the Trump administration order one.

The American Bar Association, which earlier endorsed Kavanaugh, and the dean of Yale Law School, which Kavanaugh attended, also called Friday for an FBI probe.

Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, welcomed the FBI investigation but decried the limits imposed on it.

“A thorough FBI investigation is critical to developing all the relevant facts,” Katz said.

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The timing of the panel’s session gave committee members little time to digest Thursday’s remarkable testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford. Trump said he found Ford’s testimony “very compelling” and Kavanaugh’s defiant response “incredible.”

If confirmed to fill the vacancy of retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote on contentious issues. Disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops are possibly heading to the court. The court begins a new term Monday.

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