WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — The US Senate moved closer to confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Thursday after Republicans said a new FBI investigation found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump’s nominee.
As thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters marched in the streets of Washington, Democrats assailed the latest FBI probe as “incomplete” and constrained by a White House determined to push through the lifetime appointment of the conservative 53-year-old judge.
“This investigation found no hint of misconduct,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know.”
Grassley said it was now time for the full Senate to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the nation’s highest court — an appointment that could shift the nine-member panel to the right for decades to come.
The Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, could vote as early as Saturday and all eyes are on three key Republican senators who could make or break the nomination — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Speaking to reporters after reviewing the FBI report, Collins said it “appears to be a very thorough investigation.”
Flake, a vocal Trump critic who pushed the White House into giving the FBI an additional week to look into the accusations against Kavanaugh, said the FBI report contained “no additional corroborating information.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein said she had not yet had access to the entire report — but that from what she had seen it appeared insufficient to lay to rest concerns about Kavanaugh.
“It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited perhaps by the White House, I don’t know,” Feinstein told reporters.
“We had many fears that this was a very limited process,” added Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. “Those fears have been realized.”
A California university professor, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified last week that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were teenagers decades ago — allegations vehemently denied by the appeals court judge.
“These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations,” Grassley said.
“It’s time to vote,” he said. “I’ll be voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called for an end to what he called “partisan histrionics” and the “politics of personal destruction” and for a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“This process has been ruled by fear and anger and underhanded gamesmanship for too long,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Trump claimed the FBI report exonerated Kavanaugh and expressed optimism about Republican chances in the November midterm elections, where control of the House of Representatives and Senate could be at stake.
“This is now the 7th time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh,” Trump said in a tweet. “If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats.”
“The harsh and unfair treatment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters,” Trump added. “The PEOPLE get it far better than the politicians.
“Most importantly, this great life cannot be ruined by mean & despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations,” Trump said.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a panel now equally divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
But his Senate confirmation process has been roiled by the allegations from Blasey Ford and takes place amid an atmosphere of bitter political partisanship in Washington.
Blasey Ford testified last week that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early 1980s while they were in high school.
Kavanaugh, in a fiery response, rejected the allegations and further sexual misconduct claims against him from two other women.
In the new background probe, the FBI contacted 10 people and interviewed nine, The New York Times reported. It was not clear why the 10th was not interviewed.
They include three people who Ford says were in the house at the time of the party. One is Mark Judge, who the professor says was in the room when Kavanaugh lay on top of her, ground his genitals against her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.
On Wednesday, the three Republican senators key to Kavanaugh’s approval blasted Trump for mocking Ford’s memory lapses at a political rally.
Collins denounced the president’s comments as “just plain wrong” while Murkowski called Trump’s speech “wholly inappropriate” and “unacceptable.”
Flake, the third Republican swing vote, said there was “no time and no place for remarks like that.”
“It’s kind of appalling,” he added.
As the Senate moved towards a vote, protesters were marching on the Supreme Court chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, Kavanaugh’s not welcome here.”
“I believe Dr Ford, and I believe Kavanaugh is part of a Big Old Boys club that is going to protect him no matter what,” said Angela Trzepkowski, 55, from Middletown, Delaware.