U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he wants the FBI to do a “comprehensive” investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh, but that he stands by his Supreme Court nominee “all the way.”
Trump said during a White House news conference in the Rose Garden that he wants the probe to wrap up quickly because the accusations have been “so unfair” to Kavanaugh and his family. But he said it’s fine with him if the FBI wants to pursue accusations made by three women who have come forward even as he has left the scope of the investigation to Senate Republicans.
“My White House will do whatever the senators want,” Trump said in response to questions at a news conference called to announce the updated trade deal with Canada. “The one thing I want is speed.”
Trump says he’s keeping “an open mind” but is hopeful Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate.
Trump did not want to discuss alternative nominees.
“I don’t want to talk about plan B,” said Trump, whose comments came as a new Supreme Court session began with eight justices on Monday.
FBI agents interviewed one of the three women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as Republicans and Democrats quarrelled over whether the bureau would have enough time and freedom to conduct a thorough investigation before a high-stakes vote on his nomination to the top court.
The White House insisted it was not “micromanaging” the new one-week review of Kavanaugh’s background, but some Democratic lawmakers claimed the White House was keeping investigators from interviewing certain witnesses. President Donald Trump tweeted that no matter how much time and discretion the FBI was given, “it will never be enough” for Democrats trying to keep Kavanaugh off the bench.
And even as the FBI explored the past allegations that have surfaced against Kavanaugh, another Yale University classmate came forward to accuse the federal appellate judge of being untruthful in his testimony to the Senate judiciary committee about the extent of his drinking in college.
Ramirez speaks to FBI
As the fresh review unfolded, the prosecutor brought in by Republicans to handle questioning at last week’s hearing outlined in a new memo why she did not believe criminal charges would be brought against Kavanaugh if it were a criminal case rather than a Supreme Court confirmation process. Rachel Mitchell wrote that she did not believe a “reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the committee.”
Mitchell argued there were inconsistencies in Christine Blasey Ford’s narrative and said no one has corroborated Ford’s account of what she says happened between her and Kavanaugh.
Ford, a California college professor, was not questioned as part of a criminal proceeding, but in the confirmation process.
In speaking to FBI agents, Deborah Ramirez detailed her allegation that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in the early 1980s when they were students at Yale University, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of a confidential investigation.
Kavanaugh has denied Ramirez’s allegation.
But Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, has not been contacted by the FBI since Trump on Friday, ordered the agency to take another look at the nominee’s background, according to a member of Ford’s team.
Kavanaugh has denied assaulting Ford.
In a statement released Sunday, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s said he is “deeply troubled by what has been a blatant mischaracterization by Brett himself of his drinking at Yale.” Charles (Chad) Ludington, who now teaches at North Carolina State University, said he was a friend of Kavanaugh’s at Yale and that Kavanaugh was “a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker.”
“On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive,” Ludington said.
While saying that youthful drinking should not condemn a person for life, Ludington said he was concerned about Kavanaugh’s statements under oath before the Senate judiciary committee.
Speaking to the issue of the scope of the FBI’s investigation, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House counsel Don McGahn, who is managing Kavanaugh’s nomination, “has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like, and what the scope of the investigation is.”
White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said the investigation will be “limited in scope” and “will not be a fishing expedition. The FBI is not tasked to do that.”
Few Republican votes not known
Judiciary committee member Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, requested an investigation last Friday — after he and other Republicans on the panel voted along strict party lines in favour of Kavanaugh’s confirmation — as a condition for his own subsequent vote to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
Another committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said Sunday that testimony would be taken from Ramirez and Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who has been named by two of three women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
“I think that will be the scope of it. And that should be the scope of it,” Graham said.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, called on the White House and the FBI to provide the written directive regarding the investigation’s scope. In a letter Sunday, she also asked for updates on any expansion of the original directive.
Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday she is confident in the investigation and “that the FBI will follow up on any leads that result from the interviews.” The Maine Republican supports the new FBI investigation, and is among a few Republican and Democratic senators who have not announced a position on Kavanaugh.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also has not announced how she will vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Republicans have 51 seats in the closely divided 100-member Senate and could afford to lose one vote, but not two or more on confirmation. Vice-President Mike Pence would break any 50-50 tie in their favour.
The third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations. Kavanaugh has called her accusations a “joke.” Judge has said he “categorically” denies the allegations.
Swetnick’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Saturday that his client had not been contacted by the FBI but was willing to co-operate with investigators.