US President Donald Trump’s efforts to confirm his conservative nominee for th FBI e US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, continued to face serious obstacles as Democratic Party senators and women activists dug for embarrassing evidence to block his candidacy.
After Trump bowed to pressure from moderate Republican senators late last week and agreed to open a limited probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh by three women, Democrats and women activists have been trying to prove that the judge “lied” to senators during his testimony last week when he claimed he had never been involved in heavily drinking alcohol.
On Monday, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber would vote “this week” on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
A spokesman for McConnell declined to clarify whether he was referring to procedural votes or a final vote on confirming the controversial judge.
Kavanaugh reacted angrily to charges of sexual misconduct during his latest testimony, claiming that this was a “conspiracy” to block his nomination by Democrats and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
After listening to emotional testimony last week from university professor Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who had first made sexual misconduct charges against the Supreme Court nominee, Republican leaders in the Senate were keen to proceed with a vote that they were likely to narrowly win.
However, the FBI investigation happened because Republican Arizona senator Jeff Flake blinked and made his vote to confirm Kavanaugh contingent on further inquiries into the allegations.
The Kavanaugh nomination turned into a major controversy last month that jeopardised efforts by Trump and his fellow Republicans to cement conservative dominance of the nation’s highest court and push America’s judiciary to the right.
The nomination has become a politically explosive issue just weeks before 6 November elections in the US, when control of the Congress is at stake.
Some Republicans fear that pushing ahead with the confirmation could alienate women voters, while the Democrats will seek to capitalise on it.
Supreme Court nominations require Senate confirmation, and Trump’s Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. This means that if all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, Trump cannot afford to have more than one Republican oppose his nominee, with vice-president Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote.
At least three moderate Republican senators have seemed sceptical about Kavanaugh’s nomination, and they are under heavy pressure from women activists not to rush the FBI investigation.
On Monday, Kavanaugh’s attorney said the FBI had talked with his high-school friend Mark Judge, but the interview had not been complete.
University professor Ford said during her testimony that Judge was a witness when Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982 when they were high-school students in Maryland. She said Judge and Kavanaugh were both drunk at the time.
Judge has denied Ford’s allegations. Kavanaugh has also denied her accusations, as well as those of two other women who have made similar charges against him.
P J Smyth, identified by Ford as being at the gathering of teenagers where the alleged assault occurred, was interviewed by the FBI and again denied knowledge of the gathering or of improper conduct by his friend Kavanaugh, Smyth’s lawyers said.
Kavanaugh’s second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has also been interviewed by the FBI. Texts between friends of Kavanaugh suggest that he and his team tried to refute Ramirez’s claim before it became public, the US network NBC News reported, citing the messages.
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for the third woman, Julie Swetnick, told news channel CNN on Monday that his client had not been contacted by the FBI.
Trump said on Monday that the FBI would have free rein to interview any witnesses it deemed necessary. He said he did not want the probe to become a “witch hunt” and that it should be completed quickly.
“I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation. Whatever that means, according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority, I want them to do that,” Trump said at a White House news conference.
His remarks followed criticisms by Democrats that he and other Republicans were trying to limit the scope of the FBI probe. Democratic senator Chris Coons told reporters he was in discussions with the White House on the probe.
“The FBI needs to be allowed to pursue all reasonable investigatory steps from the credible allegations in front of the committee,” he said.
Nine of the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote on Monday to FBI Director Christopher Wray and White House counsel Don McGahn listing 24 people they said should be interviewed by the FBI and urging that the investigation assess all three allegations of sexual misconduct.
Senator Diane Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, wrote to McGahn and Wray and asked that the committee be provided with a copy of the written directive the White House had sent to the FBI, as well as the names of any additional witnesses or evidence if the probe is expanded.
Trump also said he believed Kavanaugh did not lie during his testimony about the extent of his drinking in high school and college. On the other hand, Trump said, if the FBI uncovered something, “I’ll take that into consideration. I have a very open mind.”
He did not elaborate.
Chad Ludington, a Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh, said in a media statement that Judge was not truthful during his Senate testimony last week about his drinking and that Kavanaugh was “a frequent drinker and a heavy drinker” at Yale who often got belligerent and aggressive when drunk.
Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee made public late on Sunday a previously unreleased interview with Kavanaugh from 26 September before a public hearing with Ford in which he denied all the allegations against him.
Committee Democrats declined to ask questions, saying they felt the FBI should investigate the allegations.
The Republicans, who are trying to retain control of the Congress in the November elections, are seeking to balance their desire for another conservative justice on the court with sensitivity about how they handle sexual misconduct allegations amid the reverberations of the #MeToo movement in the United States.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Kavanaugh controversy continues