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Trump and Senate GOP request FBI investigation of Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s fight for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is not over. President Trump has ordered the FBI to investigate sexual assault allegations against his nominee, who has agreed to cooperate. The development comes after the Senate Republicans pushed Kavanaugh's nomination forward but also requested the probe. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff with the latest.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Dramatic new turns tonight in Brett Kavanaugh's fight for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    President Trump is now ordering the FBI to investigate sexual assault allegations against his nominee. And Kavanaugh says he will cooperate. This comes after Senate Republicans pushed a yes vote on Kavanaugh through committee, but also changed its posture and agreed to the probe.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    In the Senate Judiciary Committee, the time to vote quietly came and went. But there was action, a lot of it, in whispers and side conversations.

    And Republican Senator Jeff Flake took his seat and announced a major change in his approach.

  • SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

    I think it would be proper to delay the for vote for up to, but not more than one week, in order to let the FBI do an investigation limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Flake said committee Democrats had raised a legitimate issue in demanding the FBI investigate sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's.

  • SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

    I'm not expecting them to the vote yes, but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred. This country's being ripped apart here.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The 11 Republicans on the panel then voted to move the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor, where Flake asked that it wait a week. But South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham pointed out that Flake had no guarantee.

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

    Senator Flake has made clear what it would take him to be comfortable on a final passage vote. But it doesn't matter what we say here. This will be up to Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    With that, Chairman Chuck Grassley abruptly adjourned the meeting. An open mic between Grassley and Democrat Dianne Feinstein picked up the confusion over what had happened.

  • SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:

    Is it going to happen, or did you cut off a vote?

  • SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY:

    No, we didn't have a motion in front of us. This is all a gentlemen and women's agreement.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    All this after an already dramatic day, which started with Flake announcing he would support Kavanaugh in committee and on the floor.

    Shortly thereafter, cameras captured the Arizona senator hidden by a half-closed elevator door being confronted by protesters.

  • WOMAN:

    Do you think that he's telling the truth?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Flake stayed silent there.

  • WOMAN:

    How can you be speechless?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee meeting got under way with Democrat Richard Blumenthal moving to subpoena Mark Judge.

    Christine Blasey Ford said he was the friend present when Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her in 1982.

  • SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL:

    He has never been interviewed by the FBI. He has never been question by any member of our committee.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Grassley read a new letter from Judge maintaining that he didn't recall the attack.

  • SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY:

    "I told the committee that I do not want to comment about these events publicly. I never saw Brett act in a manner Dr. Ford described."

    The motion is defeated.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Republicans defeated the motion to subpoena Judge and then quickly began moving to vote, before Democrats could object or speak.

  • WOMAN:

    Mr. Leahy.

  • SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

    No, because it violates the customs of this committee.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Some Democrats expressed their anger by remaining silent when their names were called. And four Democrats walked out of the room.

  • SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

    This is a failure of this body to do what it has always said it's about, which is be deliberative.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Back inside, Democratic Dick Durbin read aloud a letter from the American Bar Association urging a delay for the FBI to investigate.

  • SEN. RICHARD DURBIN:

    "Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation wouldn't only have a lasting impact on the Senate's reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court."

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    But Grassley pushed back.

  • SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY:

    The ABA is an outside organization. Like any other, they can send us letters and share their advice, but we're not going to let them dictate our committee's business.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    There were greater cultural themes as well. Graham said in an impassioned defense of Kavanaugh:

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

    I know I'm a single white male from South Carolina, and I'm told I should shut up, but I will not shut up, if that's OK. This has never been about the truth. This has been about delay and destruction.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Republicans also said they believe something happened to Dr. Ford, but that it didn't involve Kavanaugh.

    Democrats urged Republicans not to dismiss Ford.

  • SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

    We have someone who made a credible claim. The chairman even thanked her for her bravery. Well, where is the bravery in this room?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Even as the FBI investigation goes forward, Republicans still hope to start Senate debate on Kavanaugh this weekend.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And Lisa joins us now to go over the very latest twists from Capitol Hill. And our own Yamiche Alcindor is here as well. She's been tracking reaction to all this at the White House.

    So, Lisa, first to you.

    Where does this stand right now with the FBI, with what the Senate is planning to do?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Just when you thought there couldn't be more surprises, we had another one today.

    The plan right now is for the FBI to begin this background investigation, largely in questioning witnesses. We don't know who they're going to question. And the deal that has been struck here is that they can do no more than a week's worth of work before Republicans will move toward a final vote on this nominee.

    Process matters here. We're going to talk a little bit about that. But, first, I want to mention the key witness that Democrats want to be interviewed, of course, is Mark Judge. He has put out a statement saying he is willing to cooperate. But he said he wants it to be a matter of confidentiality.

    We're not sure what that means. We have to find out. So he's — still a lot of questions about that.

    Let's talk about what happens now. The FBI begins investigating tomorrow. The Senate is expected to take a vote to begin the debate on Judge Kavanaugh. This is procedural. It is just one of a series of votes that need to happen. Now, the next major vote would be to end that debate. That's called closure.

    But that won't happen until the FBI finishes. Sometime next week is the expectation. And then late next week, conceivably, there would be a final vote. That's Republicans' hope.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Yamiche, the White House has said the president didn't think this was necessary, this investigation. How are they responding to all this? The president has given the go-ahead. And how are they dealing with the delay?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    The president is going along with what the Senate wants, but he is very frustrated with it.

    The president wants this to be over as quickly as possible. Today at the White House, he said watching Mark Kavanaugh — or — sorry — watching Brett Kavanaugh, he found someone who was really acting in an incredible way, that he was really impressed by all that he said.

    He also said that Dr. Ford is a very credible woman, that she's a very fine woman. But, in reality, she — he still sides with Brett Kavanaugh on all the things that he said.

    And I want to read to you really quickly Brett Kavanaugh's statement. He said: "I answered questions under oath about every topic the senators and their counsel asked me. I have done everything that they have requested and will continue to cooperate."

    Now, soon after that, Dr. Ford also had her own statement. And I'm going to read you a part of it.

  • It says:

    "A thorough FBI investigation is critical to developing all the relevant facts. No artificial limit as to time or scope should be imposed on this investigation."

    So she's happy that there's an investigation happening, but she's not happy with the fact that there's only a week to do this.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Lisa, a little more background from the Hill.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We know Senator Jeff Flake was key, as we saw earlier, but there were others involved as well.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That's right.

    There was a clear cast of characters here today. Jeff Flake could not have done this alone, because Republicans can spare a vote. And they could lose one vote and still confirm Judge Kavanaugh. So he needed some help.

    Let's look at the key Republican senators here, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski. They have both come out and supported this idea of a delay. And I was standing outside of the office where the three of them were meeting last night. They were meeting not just with Republicans, but with one Democrat last night. That's Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

    Let's look at these key Democrats who are involved. He is also supporting this idea of a delay, as Senator Heidi Heitkamp. What is interesting, Judy, is Senator Joe Donnelly, who is up for reelection this year in Indiana, vulnerable Democrat, he came out today as a firm no on Judge Kavanaugh.

    And he referenced the hearings, because as much as the White House may be happy with what Kavanaugh said, there are Democrats like Joe Donnelly who think his performance actually harmed him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally, Yamiche, what is the president doing to continue to push Brett Kavanaugh through?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Today at the White House, the president was very careful to not twist the arms probably of any senators that are still waiting to make their decision.

    He said he had no specific message, but he said that he hopes that they do what's right and that he — that he expects them to do that. However, President Trump is known to call senators personally. And he's also, from the sources that I have been talking to, allowed senators to call him directly.

    So if you're a senator, like Senator Collins, and you call the White House, you can get through pretty quickly to President Trump. So essentially he really wants to be able to talk to these senators, but doesn't want to badger them.

    A source told me today that they are — that the White House has been continuing to engage the Senate and will continue to do so. So, essentially, they're pushing the Senate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Interesting. You're saying there — that's all happening while the president is frustrated with the process.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Yes. Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

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