Kavanaugh latest: Sen. Collins, a key GOP vote, says FBI investigation appears ‘very thorough’
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — As senators took turns behind closed doors on Thursday scrutinizing an FBI background investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, a key Republican said it appears to be a “very thorough investigation” while top Democrats called it “incomplete.”
Senators are going into a secure room on Capitol Hill, called the SCIF, where one copy of the FBI report on the additional interviews agents did is available for review.
As they emerged, some Republicans said they would be outright yes votes for Kavanaugh, while Democrats suggested the White House had tied the FBI’s hands by not allowing more witnesses to be interviewed.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal claimed the White House had “straightjacketed this investigation.”
Two key GOP senators, while saying they are still undecided how to vote, made comments the White House would find encouraging.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Maine Sen. Susan Collins indicated they were satisfied with the FBI’s additional investigation.
Here’s how the day is unfolding.
2:14 p.m. Sen. Heitkamp is a ‘no’ on Kavanaugh
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, being closely-watched for her decision, told WDAY News that she will vote “no” on Kavanaugh.
Heitkamp is a red-state Democrat up for re-election in a tough race against GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, who Trump endorsed earlier on the trail. Trump won her home state by more than 35 points.
ABC’s Mary Bruce reports that leaves four senators still officially undecided, with GOP leaders needing two of those undecided senators to vote “yes” in order to win the battle.
1:46 p.m.: Republican leaders to hold news conference
As the war of words heats up, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and other committee Republicans announced they will hold a news conference at 2:15 p.m. on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
McConnell and Grassley, who have already voiced their support for Kavanaugh, are hoping to push his nomination through with a final vote as early as Saturday.
Earlier, McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, delivered a spirited defense of Kavanaugh. “We will not be hoodwinked by those who tried hard to smear this good man,” he said.
A reminder on the math: If all Democrats stand against Kavanaugh, it would take only two Republican “no” votes to sink his nomination, but some key Republicans appeared to be coming closer to “yes.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, emerging from the secure room, told reporters the FBI report was 46 pages long, that each of the interviews is on a separate piece of paper so senators can share them as they read, and that the FBI also sent a stack of pages of transcribed phone calls from its tip line.
12:39 p.m.: Ford’s lawyers pen letter to FBI Director Wray
The legal team for Kavanaugh’s chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray questioning why his agents did not interview Ford, as well as other witnesses they said would have challenged Kavanaugh’s testimony, including Ford’s husband and her polygraph examiner. They also said Ford would have provided her medical and phone records.
“The FBI interviewed Dr. Ford, she would have provided her direct account of Judge Kavanaugh’s assault and answered any questions about it, including questions that Ms. Mitchell and the Judiciary Committee members were unwilling or unable to ask during the hearing,” the letter reads, in part. “She would have also provided corroborating evidence, including her medical records and access to the phone from which she messaged The Washington Post about Judge Kavanaugh’s assault prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court.”
The investigation “also declined to interview witnesses whose names we provided to the FBI,” the letter states. “None were contacted nor, to our knowledge, were more than a dozen other names we provided to the FBI whose interviews would have challenged the credibility of Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony as possessing information highly relevant to Dr. Ford’s allegations.”
11:50 a.m.: Flake and Collins appear satisfied but are still undecided
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, while saying she remains undecided on confirming Kavanaugh, told reporters of the FBI report, “It appears to be a very thorough investigation, but I am going back later today to personally read the interviews. That’s really all I have to say right now.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another key vote for Republicans to push Trump’s pick over the finish line, echoed Collins’ statement, telling awaiting reporters outside the secure room holding the FBI report, “I’ve had the first briefing. I’m going back for another briefing later.”
He quoted Collins saying the investigation was “very thorough and no new corroborative information came out” and said, “That’s accurate.”
Asked if he’s leaning towards a ‘yes’ vote on Kavanaugh, Flake responded, “You can’t say anything, but you can say that I was a ‘yes’ before this. But I wanted this pause. We’ve had this pause … And now we’re in the process of reviewing it. But thus far, we’ve seen no new, credible corroboration – no new corroboration at all.”
11:22 a.m.: Senators weigh in on report results
The partisan chorus has grown louder in the wake of the FBI’s report with Republicans urging a vote and Democrats criticizing the FBI for not interviewing California professor Christine Blasey Ford who has accused Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her decades ago when they were in high school in suburban Maryland.
As he has before, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell urged lawmakers to vote and said he saw little corroborating information.
“It’s time to vote,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said amid scrutiny of portions of the FBI’s report on Brett Kavanaugh. “This investigation found no hint of misconduct.”
Meanwhile, committee’s ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said: “The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” and added, “The FBI did not interview Brett Kavanaugh, nor did the FBI interview Dr. Blasey Ford.”
10:31 a.m.: What’s happening in the Senate
The FBI report is being held under lock and key.
Republican Senators have poured into the secure room on Capitol Hill, called the SCIF, where the FBI’s report is being held for senators and a select number of staffers to review.
More than 20 members, including Republican leader McConnell, Grassley, and Senate Judiciary Committee members Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C..; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; plus Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a key swing vote, are inside.
Ranking member Feinstein also went in at 9 a.m. and no one has been seen exiting.
Members are getting briefed on the report at this point, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and they are expected to return later to read it.
The “backlog” of Democratic members waiting for their turn is “so long, they’re telling me I might have to go tomorrow,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told ABC News.
But she’s still waiting to hear back and Democrats are currently looking at “doubling up” their members to get them all in, she added.
It is unclear exactly what time slots members have, though it is certain that members have them.
10:15 a.m.: Grassley: There’s ‘nothing’ new in the report
Grassley released a statement Thursday morning after the FBI report was delivered to the Senate Committee he chairs, stating, “there’s nothing [in the report] that we didn’t already know.”
“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.
He urges his colleagues to “wipe away the muck” from the ugly confirmation fight, and “look at this nomination with clear eyes.”
Looking ahead to Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, Grassley said, “It’s time to vote. I’ll be voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
10:13 a.m.: Trump says ‘due process, fairness, and commons sense’ on trial
Wading into the confirmation process this morning, Trump called this moment a “very important time in our country. Due Process, Fairness and Common Sense are now on trial!”
In another tweet earlier Thursday morning, Trump seemed to express a mood of optimism from the White House, and acknowledging the potential political ramifications of the Kavanaugh fight on the midterm elections.
He asserted that the “harsh and unfair” treatment of Kavanaugh is having an “incredible upward impact on voters.” He also said that Kavanaugh’s “great life” cannot be “ruined by mean & despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations.”
“This is now the 7th. time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh. If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats,” he added in a third tweet.
What was the FBI investigating?
The FBI was directed to look into “credible” allegations of sexual misconduct made by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez against Kavanaugh.
The White House specifically requested FBI interviews with four people: Kavanaugh’s high school friends Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth; Leland Keyser, who Ford claimed was at the party where the alleged assault took place; and Ramirez, whose lawyers provided a list of more than 20 additional witnesses to interview.
Kavanaugh has categorically denied all charges.
The White House received the FBI report Wednesday night, according to a statement by deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah.
“With Leader McConnell’s cloture filing, senators have been given ample time to review this seventh background investigation,” he said. “This is the last addition to the most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history.”
The report, as of Thursday morning, has not been released to the public. Sen. Mitch McConnell has insisted that it remain private.
What comes next?
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor late Wednesday night, announced that senators will review the report and then he filed a procedural motion to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
All 100 senators will be able to access the report Thursday morning in rotating time blocks, starting at 8 a.m.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said there will be “plenty of time” for senators to review the material before a Friday cloture vote.
If it passes, it’s likely the Senate will hold a final vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Saturday. If Republicans don’t have the votes to cut off debate on Friday, it cannot move forward to a final vote.
Standing in Kavanaugh’s way are a handful of key swing votes. The group of moderate senators who could ultimately make or break his nomination include Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Their votes will likely hinge on the FBI report.
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