GOP agrees to FBI probe of Kavanaugh, delaying Senate vote
By LISA MASCARO, ALAN FRAM and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Friday, September 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — After a dramatic flurry of last-minute negotiations, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh cleared a key procedural hurdle Friday, but his confirmation prospects were still deeply uncertain as Republicans agreed to ask for a new FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations.
Under pressure from moderate members, Republican leaders said they would allow the new probe for up to one week, slowing their rush to confirm Kavanaugh shortly after the new high court term opens on Monday.
It was unclear whether President Donald Trump backed the new timeline, cobbled together in private negotiations Friday. The talks were forced by Sen. Jeff Flake, a moderate Republican who surprised colleagues by announcing his support for Kavanaugh early Friday only to call for further investigation a few hours later.
Trump, who previously accused the Democrats of obstruction and opposed the FBI probing the allegations against his nominee, said merely that he would “let the Senate handle that.” In fact, it’s the White House that would have to ask the FBI to investigate.
Friday’s developments unfolded a day after Kavanaugh and an accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in an emotional, hours-long hearing that was televised nationwide. Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegation that he assaulted Ford while they were both in high school, but she said she was “100 percent” certain he was her attacker.
Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of Friday’s drama and uncertainty. In the morning, he announced that he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, implored him to change his mind. The stunning confrontation was captured by television cameras.
After huddling privately with his colleagues, Flake announced he would vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge. Democrats have been calling for such an probe, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it’s unnecessary.
The committee vote was 11-10 along party lines.
Flake said that after discussing the matter with fellow senators, he felt it “would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week.”
Attention quickly turned to a handful of undecided senators. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he supported Flake’s call to push off a full Senate vote until the FBI investigates Ford’s allegation. He said the probe should happen “so that our country can have confidence in the outcome of this vote.”
It was unclear if Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska would do the same.
With a 51-49 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error on a final vote, especially given the fact that several Democrats facing tough re-election prospects this fall announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Friday. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana all said they would vote no.
During Thursday’s hearing, Democrats repeatedly peppered Kavanaugh with questions about whether he would support an FBI investigation. He demurred, saying he would back whatever the committee decided to do.
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. It compiles information about the nominee’s past and provides its findings to the White House, which passes them along to the committee. Republicans say reopening the FBI investigation is unnecessary because committee members have had the opportunity to question both Kavanaugh and Ford and other potential witnesses have submitted sworn statements.
If the FBI does reopen the background investigation, agents could interview accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details that could help corroborate or disprove the allegations.
Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. In her gripping testimony, Ford said Kavanaugh and Judge’s laughter during the incident has stuck with her nearly four decades later.
Judge has said he does not recall any such incident. In a new letter to the Senate panel, he said he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency assigned to investigate “confidentially.”
Flake, a 55-year-old Arizonan, has made himself a central character in the drama. As a retiring Republican, with no public plans to face GOP voters soon, Flake has emerged this year as a vocal and biting Trump critic and an advocate for bipartisan cooperation in Washington, even has he largely votes with his party.
Flake’s post on the committee has given him another platform. In recent weeks, he’s acted as a committee liaison to the Democrats and moderates Republicans urging a slower process. Last weekend, he pushed the committee to give Ford more time to decide whether to testify. Democrats have been eyeing him as a possible “no” vote, leaving many surprised to see him announce Friday morning that he backed the judge. He made clear hours later his vote wasn’t yet secure.
Opinion: Where to Draw the Line on Military Interventions?
By John P. Caves III
Does the United States have a responsibility to protect the world?
When Moammar Gadhafi threatened to hunt down Libyan rebels and protesters “house by house, room by room” as his tanks advanced on Benghazi, the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize member states to “take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
In doing so, the United Nations gave force to a concept that had been floating in international circles since the Rwandan genocide in 1994: “Responsibility to Protect,” the idea that the international community is not only legally justified but obligated to prevent violence against civilians within the borders of a sovereign country if that country’s government is either the perpetrator or “manifestly failing” to protect its people.
Of course, when it comes time for the responsibility to protect to be implemented with armed force, all eyes turn to the United States.
While the United States attempted to wriggle out of limelight in Libya with its uninspiringly named “Lead from Behind” strategy, it nevertheless launched decisive strikes against Gadhafi’s air defense systems during start of the operation and got stuck with much of the blame once Libya descended into chaos afterward.
The questions that arose after Libya, and invariably arise before, during and after all other such humanitarian crises, are as such: Does the United States, by virtue of its long military reach and unprecedented power, have a unique responsibility to protect? And if it cannot protect everyone, which cases should it prioritize?
A blanket responsibility to protect is rendered moot, if not as a moral concept but as a practical guide to decisions on employing military force, by the fact that U.S. power is limited. Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that fact: at their height, military units were rotating back into combat nearly every other year and the costs of both wars weighed on a federal budget already strained by growing mandatory entitlement spending.
The United States, even with the best of intentions, will need to prioritize and pick its battles. It should do so by considering interests, allies and credibility, roughly in that order. That does not count out humanitarian interventions, but it provides a guide on how to approach them.
Interests, Lord Palmerston said, are permanent and paramount. He was not entirely correct on the first account — interests do change, but slowly — but was on the second. Some things cannot be ignored: any crisis that threatens the supply of a vital resource, for instance, or a military challenge to the United States by a rival great power — say, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe or Chinese in the South China Sea. Those things have direct consequences for the United States and its people, to whom our government owes its first responsibility.
Yet interests are not only about resources. The United States benefits by having a world that is built in its own democratic image: stable, transparent and likely to ask itself tough questions before going to war. We must be careful with taking this reasoning too far; not every rebellion is likely to turn into a democracy — most do not — and we learned the hard way that democracy cannot easily be imposed by force — again, Iraq. But from time to time a nascent democratic movement might arise that is worth supporting, even militarily — after all, where would the United States be had France not intervened in 1778?
Allies are extensions of interest; they are allies because they support one or more U.S. interests, and thus to maintain that support the United States should be willing to help them protect theirs. Some are allies largely because they are fellow democracies, and helping them should have a higher priority; they help make the world more benign for the United States simply by existing. For the others, we have to weigh the costs of aiding them against the value of the U.S. interests they support. And that includes costs to credibility, which ought to make Saudi Arabia uncomfortable right now.
Thus, to credibility. In the big sense, credibility is reputation — maintaining prestige by living up to what others expect of you. In the small sense, credibility is doing what you say you will do. In both regards, credibility supports the advancement of interests because it greases the machinery of diplomacy. If no one believes you will fight, you will have more potential fights on your hands.
For better or for worse, other countries expect the United States to step in when there is a humanitarian crisis, and if enough of the world’s would-be genocidaires believe that the United States just might stop them, there will probably be fewer attempts at genocide. But when the United States commits itself to doing something and then fails to act, as with former President Barack Obama’s “red line” in Syria, both credibility and reputation come tumbling down, and require more fights to restore.
In sum, then, the United States does have a responsibility to protect. In a sense: to protect itself, to protect democracy, to protect its allies, and to protect its reputation. Insofar as humanitarian missions can convincingly support those responsibilities and are within a reasonable estimate of U.S. capability, they are probably worth a shot. If they are not, our leaders must watch their words: the worst thing then to do is overpromise but underwhelm.
ABOUT THE WRITER
John P. Caves III, a captain in the U.S. Army from January 2013 to July 2017, is a graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.