Unprecedented

In stunning turnaround, Senator Jeff Flake calls for FBI probe ahead of Kavanaugh vote — and forces Trump’s hand

President Donald Trump directed the FBI to conduct a supplemental background investigation of his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, late Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Twitter. The background check “must be limited in scope,” Sanders’ statement read, and Trump demanded that the FBI complete it “in less than a week.”

The development is the result of a surprise turnaround earlier on Friday by Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who joined the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee in calling for a one-week delay in a final vote on Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI probe into sexual assault allegations against him. Top Senate Republicans said they would go along with such a plan late on Friday afternoon, all but forcing Trump to order up the probe by the FBI.

The president’s order capped a day of twists and turns in Washington, D.C., leaving Americans no closer to knowing the fate of Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee. “I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but no more than one week,” Flake told the Judiciary Committee after meeting with its Democrat minority. “This country is being ripped apart here,” Flake said at one point about the bitterly contentious fight over Kavanaugh.

The Judiciary Committee then proceeded to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination along party lines, with an 11-10 vote.

Earlier in the morning, Flake was confronted in an elevator in the U.S. Capitol Building by protesters pleading with him to change his mind, after he announced his intention to vote in favor of confirming Kavanaugh.

A preliminary vote by the full Senate had been planned for Saturday, and late Friday afternoon, according to BuzzFeed News, a procedural vote was expected to still take place on Saturday at noon in preparation for a final vote. Senator John Cornyn of Texas said Republican leaders would allow up to a week for a background investigation of Kavanaugh before proceeding with a final vote, opening the door to Trump’s action.

Prior to issuing the order for the FBI to open a probe of Kavanaugh, Trump spoke briefly with reporters. He initially said Friday he’ll leave it to the Senate to determine when it will vote on Kavanaugh, and expressed optimism about the outcome of a possible vote, telling reporters in the Oval Office, “I’m sure it will all be very good.”

Trump told reporters Friday that undecided Republican senators “have to do what they think is right” and “be comfortable with themselves” on the Kavanaugh vote. He said he watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on Capitol Hill a day earlier, saying, “I thought her testimony was very compelling and she looks like a very fine woman to me. She was a very credible witness.” The president added that he hadn’t thought at all about a replacement for Kavanaugh. “Not even a little bit,” he declared.

Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women. He and one of the accusers, Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party when both were teenagers, testified publicly before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations.

In other developments on Friday, Mark Judge, the friend of Kavanaugh who has been named by Ford and by Julie Swetnick, the third Kavanaugh accuser to come forward, in sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh sent another letter to the Judiciary Committee indicating he would “cooperate with any law enforcement agency that is assigned to confidentially investigate these allegations.” The letter, which can be seen below, also contained a series of denials about allegations that have been made by Swetnick regarding Judge’s and Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior at parties when they were teenagers.

Below, watch highlights of Trump’s remarks in the Oval Office.

Read the full story at Buzzfeed News and The Associated Press.

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