As Capitol Hill braced on Wednesday for the results of an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, moved the Senate closer to a vote on his nomination.
The move by the Republican leader sets up a critical Friday that could determine whether Kavanaugh is seated on the supreme court. Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate and a simple majority is needed to advance his nomination. A final vote could come Saturday.
In brief remarks on the Senate floor late Wednesday, McConnell said: “This evening, the Senate will receive the results of the FBI’s supplemental background investigation.”
“There will be plenty of time for Members to review and be briefed on the supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” he continued. “So I am filing cloture on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination this evening so the process can move forward, as I indicated earlier this week.”
The move comes just one day after Trump inflamed an already toxic political brawl over the judge’s nomination by mocking a woman who has accused his nominee of sexual assault.
On Wednesday night, Trump reiterated his support for Kavanaugh on Twitter.
“Wow, such enthusiasm and energy for Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” he wrote. “He is a fine man and great intellect. The country is with him all the way!”
As the Senate waited for the FBI report, Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee suggested that past background checks had revealed evidence of inappropriate conduct despite Republicans’ repeated claims that there was never a trace of wrongdoing.
In a letter addressed to the committee’s chairman, Chuck Grassley, and signed by eight of the panel’s 10 Democrats, they challenged the veracity of a tweet sent on Tuesday by the Republican majority that said: “Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which the committee has reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there ever a whiff of ANY issue – at all – related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse.”
Democrats said the information was “not accurate” and demanded the Republicans correct the statement. They said the tweet mischaracterized information in previous background checks and violated the confidentiality agreement around the investigations. The Republican majority tweeted again later, saying it stood by its comment and that “nothing in the tweet is inaccurate or misleading”.
The rising tensions have led to heightened security at the Capitol, with some senators using police escorts to shield them from protesters eager to confront them, according to the Associated Press.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is a key undecided vote on Kavanaugh, was escorted out of a hearing Wednesday by three police officers.
The letters come as Democrats raise new questions about Kavanaugh’s truthfulness and temperament. Several high school and college classmates have come forward to challenge Kavanaugh’s characterization of his teenage years and his drinking habits.
In an op-ed for Slate, one of Kavanaugh’s freshman year roommates at Yale, James Roche, said the judge “stood up under oath and lied about his drinking and about the meaning of words in his yearbook”.
“His willingness to lie to avoid embarrassment throws doubt on his denials about the larger questions of sexual assault,” Roche wrote, adding that he would be willing to speak to the FBI.
On Tuesday, the New York Times published a letter written by Kavanaugh in 1983, which refers to himself and his friends as “loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific pukers” – a starkly different image from the one he portrayed to senators last week during a hearing before the Senate judiciary committee.
During the hearing, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her during a drunken gathering when they were in high school. He has forcefully denied the allegation. Two other women have accused him of sexual misconduct, charges he has stridently denied.
Following the hearing, Flake triggered the fresh FBI investigation of Kavanaugh last Friday when he agreed to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination – but only if there was a week delay for law enforcement to investigate allegations of serious sexual misconduct against the judge. The White House then ordered the investigation.
The scope of the FBI’s investigation remains unclear, however. At least three people identified by Ford as witnesses and a second accuser have been interviewed by federal agents. But there are several reports of former classmates and corroborating witnesses who say they have not been contacted by the bureau. Ford and Kavanaugh have not yet been interviewed.
The bureau has until Friday to complete its supplemental investigation but senators said on Wednesday that they expected to receive the findings as early as that afternoon. The findings will be shared with the White House and with the Senate judiciary committee, which will make them available to all the senators and a handful of aides. It remains unclear if the results will be made public in any form, despite calls from some Republicans for a full airing of the report.
“I’m afraid if somehow or another we don’t make [the report] public both sides will be very selective with what they share with y’all,” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican of Tennessee, told reporters on Wednesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, McConnell vowed again to hold a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination by the end of the week, saying: “It’s time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us.”
McConnell dismissed criticism from Democrats that a Friday vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination was too soon and would not be enough time to evaluate the findings from the FBI. He called it part of the minority’s effort to “move goal posts” and delay a vote on his nomination.
In a sharp rebuttal, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said Democrats did not have the power to stop a vote, and the delay to allow for an FBI investigation was done to accommodate the concerns of three Republican senators.
“Man up,” Schumer said to McConnell in a floor speech, “and say it’s your decision, not ours.”
Meanwhile, Ford’s attorneys say they will turn recordings of her taking a polygraph test and notes from her therapy sessions in which she discussed the alleged assault to the FBI if the bureau agrees to interview her.
Their request came in response to a letter from Grassley accusing her lawyers of “withholding material evidence”. He said the committee had obtained a letter from someone claiming to be an ex-boyfriend of Ford’s that “raises specific concerns” about the reliability of her polygraph test. The person, who was not identified, said he witnessed Ford help an roommate prepare for her polygraph test. The roommate – and Ford’s team – have denied the account.
In reply to Ford’s lawyers on Wednesday, Senator John Cornyn, the No 2 Republican, accused them of trying to play political games.
“This is a bad joke,” he said on Twitter. “At her request Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were interviewed before 20 million Americans. This is solely for purposes of delay.”