When Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) decided at the last moment Friday to call for an FBI investigation into a sexual assault claim against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — effectively delaying Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote by a week — it visibly stunned his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It shocked scores of television viewers, already tense from the mental whiplash of watching Thursday’s grueling testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of assaulting her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. And it left even the most seasoned congressional reporters wondering what they had just witnessed.
But Flake’s decision to join committee Democrats in calling for the FBI probe seemed to especially take aback those at Fox News, President Trump’s preferred television network. Around 1:30 p.m. Friday, the network had been poised to announce the committee’s vote to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor, a move that would have all but guaranteed his confirmation next week.
Flake’s compromise — to vote the nomination out of committee but withhold his vote in the full Senate without the probe — hung a large question mark over the week ahead. Afterward, Fox television personalities swiftly turned on the senator, barely disguising the disdain they had for what he had done.
In his show’s opening monologue Friday night, Fox News personality Sean Hannity charged that Flake had “flaked in a big way” — and also accused other Republican senators of having “caved” to Democrats' demands.
“Today, Senator Jeff Flake cast the deciding vote to push Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee, but of course it came with his drama and a condition: a week-long delay so that the FBI could look into the allegations made by Professor Ford against Judge Kavanaugh,” Hannity said.
Hannity continued, while a large graphic flashed on the screen that read: “RUN OUT THE CLOCK,” a reference to his belief that this was nothing more than an effort by Democrats to stall the nomination until after the midterm elections.
“Of course, Republicans, predictably, caved and Flake flaked in a big way and just bought the Democrats more time to seek, search, destroy and bludgeon, getting a delay under the guise of an FBI investigation,” Hannity said. “It was their number-one goal, their number-one talking point. Weren’t they paying attention? There’s a reason they said it again and again and again and again yesterday and today!”
Both Flake and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who helped convince his Senate colleague to call for an FBI investigation, said they shared “a deep concern for the health of this institution” and said they believed calling for a one-week delay was necessary to try to restore some confidence in the process for the American people.
If that was their true intent behind the delay, the message was lost on other Fox News commentators. Laura Ingraham called Flake an “out of touch narcissist” on her own show Friday night. At one point, she lowered her voice to mockingly imitate an imaginary Flake.
“Like, ‘I’m Mr. Smith goes to Washington! I’m going to save the whole process!’ " Ingraham said. “The process was polluted by an uncorroborated allegation being used to smear a man who’s been in public life for almost three decades. So, Jeff Flake, sorry, you’re a little late for that one.”
Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume questioned Flake’s dealmaking abilities.
The pummeling of Flake by those on the conservative-minded network continued Saturday morning on “Fox & Friends.”
“Jeff Flake is basically a mercenary. That’s what’s wrong with Jeff Flake. Jeff Flake has no spine,” said Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator and regular Fox News guest. “He sold out the GOP. Everybody’s afraid to say it on some desperate hope that this man’s going to grow a spine over the next few days on the floor vote. He’s finished. It’s time to move on.”
That Fox News would so sharply criticize Flake after he delayed Kavanaugh’s nomination was no surprise. In the week leading up to Thursday’s hearing, several of the network’s contributors openly tried to discredit Kavanaugh’s accusers. Among them was Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson, who suggested that sexual assault victims who didn’t report to authorities were “part of the problem.”
Kavanaugh also chose to appear on Fox News last Monday night with his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, in an effort, he said, to clear his name. The television appearance was highly unusual for a Supreme Court nominee.
Flake announced last year he would not seek reelection for his Senate seat, lamenting the direction the GOP had taken under Trump. Flake is rumored to be considering a run for president in 2020.