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Senators digging in for last stand in Kavanaugh confirmation fight

Republicans are calling for an FBI inquiry into Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and their leader, Dianne Feinstein of California. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Kavanaugh Confirmation

The parties are battling over the scope of a new FBI investigation that could have monumental consequences for the government.

As Democrats and Republicans in Congress dig in for what could be the final chapter of Brett Kavanaugh’s tumultuous confirmation battle, both parties are pushing hard on behalf of an FBI investigation. Just not the same one.

Democrats, newly emboldened by a tenuous alliance forged with Sen. Jeff Flake, are banking on federal agents’ uncovering evidence to corroborate the accounts of several women who have leveled allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh over the past month.

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Republicans — gobsmacked by the eleventh-hour swerve from their Arizona colleague after navigating a near-fatal week for the president’s Supreme Court nominee — are grappling with the unexpected investigation by calling for a separate inquiry into Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and their leader, Dianne Feinstein of California.

The stakes couldn’t be higher in the coming week on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in “the world’s greatest deliberative body” are steeling for several days of intense debate over President Donald Trump’s besieged nominee that could not only shape the Supreme Court for decades to come, but also portend control of Congress and the very nature and scope of government in a deeply fractured political environment being shaped, in part, by the #MeToo movement.

Central to both parties’ strategies is a White House torn between the executive branch’s oversight responsibilities and the political impulses of a president determined to seat his second justice ahead of November’s midterm elections.

After Flake banded with Judiciary Committee Democrats on Friday in demanding an investigation of sexual assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford ahead of a full floor vote on Kavanaugh, Trump bowed, authorizing the bureau to reopen its background check into the federal judge.

But a Saturday report by NBC News, citing anonymous sources, indicated that the White House was limiting the scope of the FBI’s inquiry, and Trump throughout the weekend has sought to demonize Senate Democrats and goad Republicans seeking an investigation of Feinstein.

Brett Kavanaugh

At a rally in West Virginia on Saturday, Trump lamented “the meanness” and “the anger” he said Democrats employed in the hope of quashing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“The entire nation has witnessed the shameless conduct of the Democrat Party,” Trump told the crowd at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling. “They’re willing to throw away every standard of decency, justice, fairness and due process to get their way.”

Republicans have reserved the bulk of their rage for Feinstein, California’s senior senator, who they allege withheld Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh for months in order to maximize the political effect on his confirmation fight.

“Remember her answer, ‘Did you leak the document?’” Trump said Saturday, before going on to pantomime Feinstein’s response to the accusation and mock her “really bad body language.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has emerged as Kavanaugh’s fiercest congressional defender, announced his intention on Sunday to call for an FBI investigation into Democrats’ handling of Ford’s allegations and their maneuvers during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings — including whether Democrats leaked Ford’s confidential letter detailing her account, or recommended that Ford take on Debra Katz, a civil rights lawyer and Trump critic, to represent her.

“We’re going to do a wholesale, full-scale investigation of what I think was a despicable process to deter from happening again,” Graham said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a similar threat Sunday.

“Dianne Feinstein and her staff is going to face an investigation for why they leaked that,” Cotton said in an interview on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” claiming that Feinstein and the panel’s Democrats “betrayed” Ford by not sharing her letter with Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans sooner.

But journalist Ryan Grim, who first reported on the letter Ford sent to lawmakers, has stated on Twitter that Feinstein’s staff did not leak the letter or news of its existence to The Intercept, Grim’s publication. Graham also said Sunday that he accepted Feinstein’s denial but did not necessarily believe her staff was innocent.

Sen. Jeff Flake

Democrats, meanwhile, have been sounding the alarm over a White House that they fear has been inappropriately constraining the FBI as it seeks to chase down details from Kavanaugh’s time in high school and college.

“I’m very concerned about this because the White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Mazie Keiko Hirono (D-Hawaii) echoed that message.

“To limit the FBI as to the scope and who they’re going to question, that really — I wanted to use the word farce, but that’s not the kind of investigation that all of us are expecting the FBI to conduct,” she said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

In a tweet late Saturday evening, Trump moved to rebut reports of meddling by the West Wing in the FBI’s work.

“NBC News incorrectly reported (as usual) that I was limiting the FBI investigation of Judge Kavanaugh, and witnesses, only to certain people,” the president wrote online. “Actually, I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion. Please correct your reporting!”

Despite those claims of interference, the bureau’s investigation appears to be broadening beyond just Ford’s accusations. Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during their time at Yale University in the 1980s, confirmed Saturday through her attorney that she was cooperating with the FBI in its inquiry.

But Julie Swetnick, Kavanaugh’s third accuser, has not yet been contacted by the FBI, her attorney, Michael Avenatti, told POLITICO on Saturday. Avenatti is also the lawyer for the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against the president.

Brett Kavanaugh

Swetnick has alleged that Kavanaugh was present at house parties in the Washington area in the early 1980s where women were plied unknowingly with alcohol and drugs. She claims she was raped by multiple boys at one such gathering.

“If they do not conduct an investigation into my client’s claims, it will cast significant doubt as to the legitimacy of the investigation as a whole,” Avenatti said. “You can’t possibly do an appropriate investigation without talking with her.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, in an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” emphasized that the FBI’s Kavanaugh inquiry would be “limited in scope” and was “not meant to be a fishing expedition.” But she could not confirm whether the White House counsel, Don McGahn, had clamped down on the interviews agents could conduct.

“I have not talked to him about it, let me make clear,” Conway said. “But he would not — we’re not trying to interfere. It’s the president who is saying, ‘Go ahead.’”

Before departing for West Virginia on Saturday, Trump said FBI officials had “free rein” to pursue whatever leads they desire to uncover the truth, according to a press pool report.

“They can do whatever they have to do, whatever it is that they do,” the president said. “They’ll be doing things we have never even thought of. And hopefully, at the conclusion, everything will be fine.”

But by Sunday afternoon, the president was back on Twitter, criticizing Democrats’ demands for a more thorough investigation of the allegations against the man who could help enshrine conservative jurisprudence for a generation.

“Wow! Just starting to hear the Democrats, who are only thinking Obstruct and Delay, are starting to put out the word that the ‘time’ and ‘scope’ of FBI looking into Judge Kavanaugh and witnesses is not enough. Hello!” the president wrote online, appending a preview of the drama sure to play out this week in Washington and ensnare all three branches of the federal government: “For them, it will never be enough — stay tuned and watch!”

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