The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 Friday to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court to the full Senate for a vote.
But there's a hitch. GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the key swing vote on the panel, threw the proceedings into confusion when he voted yes, calling for a one-week delay on the full Senate vote to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation into the sexual assault allegations brought against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford.
Those close to Flake have said he believes he’s doing the right thing, that he’s helping restore a bipartisan consensus and faith in the confirmation process, and that he’s helping Kavanaugh resolve the accusations that have been thrown at him.
President Donald Trump didn't object. He quickly ordered the FBI investigation of his nominee to the high court. "I've ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh's file," the president said. "As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week."
On Thursday, the committee heard testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology in California, who says Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s.
Judge Kavanaugh also testified, angrily rejecting the allegation he had ever assaulted Ford or anyone else. He accused Democrats of politicizing the process and harming his family and good name.
In the week to come, the FBI likely will reopen its previously completed background check on Kavanaugh. This might mean going back to old witnesses -- or speaking to new ones.
Friday saw Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee throw out Democrats' attempts to subpoena Mark Judge, a friend of Judge Kavanaugh who Ford said had witnessed the assault on her 36 years ago.
Judge had told the committee in a written statement that he did not recall any such incident.
Judge's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said: "If the FBI or any law enforcement agency requests Mr Judge's co-operation, he will answer any and all questions posed to him."
Responding to President Trump's statement, Judge Kavanaugh said, "I've done everything they have requested and will continue to co-operate".
Ford's lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client welcomed the step, but questioned the time limit of a week: "A thorough FBI investigation is critical to developing all the relevant facts... No artificial limits as to time or scope should be imposed on this investigation."
Republicans have a 51-49 majority, yet it is unclear if they can muster the 50 votes needed to approve the conservative judge.