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Grassley: FBI report on Kavanaugh likely won’t be released

Brett Kavanaugh needs the support of 50 senators to claim a seat on the Supreme Court. There are 51 Republicans in the chamber. But he still doesn’t have enough votes – for now. | Michael Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate the FBI’s final report from its inquiry into Brett Kavanaugh would be made public, adding that such a break from protocol “might actually hurt” the bureau’s ability to conduct such probes.

All 100 senators will have access to the report in a secure setting, but Republicans are worried about breaking precedent by releasing such information, which will be made available before the Senate votes this week on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, according to GOP leaders. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said senators expect to have reviewed the FBI findings before voting.

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“People will know what the FBI said before we end up voting,” Cornyn said.

The report may leak out regardless given the public interest in the probe.

The FBI conducted an inquiry after Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, elements of which were cited by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during those hearings.

Whether undecided senators take into account anything other than the FBI report is an open question. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on Tuesday that Kavanaugh’s testimony last week was at times too pointed and added: “We can’t turn the court into a partisan body that acts like a legislative body. That’s not the purpose of the court.” But he also said that wasn’t enough to make him vote on Kavanaugh.

But Grassley defended Kavanaugh from Democratic arguments that his defiant, politically charged testimony last week showed he lacks the temperament to sit on the high court.

“I don’t know that any resentment [Thomas] had because of” Hill’s harassment allegations against him has affected his actions on the court, Grassley said. “I assume you’re going to find the same thing when Kavanaugh gets on the Supreme Court.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the Senate would vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination this week as he brushed aside new questions about the judge’s past drinking habits. The Kentucky Republican is in a precarious situation on timing a final vote on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, with three undecided senators in his own party preferring to wait until after the FBI finishes an inquiry into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. McConnell said Tuesday that senators would vote “after the FBI shares what they’ve found,” but reiterated that a floor vote would happen “this week.”

McConnell also dinged Democrats for embracing the allegations of a third woman coming forward with misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh even though Democrats initially hesitated last week. That woman is a client of Michael Avenatti, whom the GOP leader slammed as “a tabloid lawyer.“ The well-known attorney represents adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

McConnell then mocked a New York Times report centering on police questioning Kavanaugh after a 1985 bar fight.

“Talk about a bombshell?” McConnell asked on the floor.

Senate Republicans are feeling more bullish on Kavanaugh’s fate as their party digs in behind the nominee, according to two GOP senators. They acknowledged that there is risk in the judge opening himself up to the probe but believe chances are low that the FBI uncovers new damaging information.

It’s unclear whether Kavanaugh can win over anyone other than three undecided Republicans and two Democrats no matter what the probe says. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who opposes Kavanaugh, declined to say Tuesday whether the FBI probe could change his mind, while Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) has “broader” concerns about Kavanaugh than just the allegations against him, his office said. Both are up for election in states where Trump is popular. Undecided Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota began facing new ads urging them to confirm Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

Democrats are trying to keep their Kavanaugh fight focused on this week’s FBI inquiry, which they view as their strongest chance to coax Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Flake into the opposition camp. They have refrained from making a specific request for a perjury investigation into Kavanaugh’s statements under oath, instead asserting that the 53-year-old appeals court judge has misrepresented himself enough to demonstrate he lacks the temperament to join the Supreme Court.

“Frankly, Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was better suited for Fox News than a confirmation hearing for the august United States Supreme Court,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday on the floor.

“It should give us all pause to consider what it means to elevate such a partisan worldview to the Supreme Court, whether it be a Democratic or a Republican partisan view, where rulings must be made on the legal merits, not on the side of the aisle which most benefits,” Schumer added.

Mitch McConnell

Before Avenatti’s client, Julie Swetnick, claimed that Kavanaugh was involved in sexual misconduct in the 1980s, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez came forward with separate allegations of their own. Both Ford’s alleged high school-era sexual assault claim and Ramirez’s college-era misconduct claim against Kavanaugh are part of this week’s FBI probe.

Republicans have sought to poke holes in the narrative Ford laid out during riveting testimony last week about her allegation against Kavanaugh, but Schumer challenged McConnell to directly address whether or not she was a credible witness.

“Does he believe or not believe Dr. Ford?” Schumer asked. “Yes or no. I happen to believe her. He refuses to answer that one way or the other because he knows that Dr. Ford had tremendous credibility.”

If the FBI finishes its Kavanaugh inquiry before Friday, McConnell could move to end debate on the nomination and tee up a final vote by then. But if investigators don’t complete their investigation into claims against the nominee before the Friday deadline, the Senate could stay in session through the weekend in order to meet McConnell’s time frame for a final vote.

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