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Senate moves ahead on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination with a procedural vote expected Friday

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced early Thursday that it has received the FBI’s completed report on Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, as partisan rancor continued to grow over the scope of the investigation into sexual assault allegations that have endangered his confirmation.

In anticipation of the report’s arrival, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night teed up a key vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday. Until that vote, senators will be rushing in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to review the sensitive FBI report that the bureau has compiled, looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.

“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” McConnell said Wednesday night.

The developments came as Senate Democrats opened a new front in their objections to the investigations of Kavanaugh’s conduct, suggesting in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that past FBI background checks of Kavanaugh include evidence of inappropriate behavior, without disclosing specifics.

The letter, signed by eight of the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, challenged the accuracy of a tweet from the committee’s Republican staff on Tuesday that said: “Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which the committee has reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there ever a whiff of ANY issue — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse.” 

The Democrats said the information in the tweet is “not accurate,” urging the GOP to correct it.

“It is troubling that the committee majority has characterized information from Judge Kavanaugh’s confidential background investigation on Twitter, as that information is confidential and not subject to public release,” the Democrats, led by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), wrote to Grassley. “If the committee majority is going to violate that confidentiality and characterize this background investigation publicly, you must at least be honest about it.”

The two committee Democrats who did not sign the letter were Sens. Christopher A. Coons (Del.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). 

Grassley’s staff responded on Twitter that “nothing in the tweet is inaccurate or misleading.” 

“The committee stands by its statement, which is completely truthful,” the committee Republicans said. “More baseless innuendo and more false smears from Senate Democrats.”

Trump mocks Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford

Once the FBI report is sent to the Hill, it will be available at a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in the Capitol Visitor Center, a secure room designed for senators to review sensitive or classified material, two Senate officials said. Just one physical copy of the report will be available, and only to senators and 10 committee staffers cleared to view the material.

The two parties will take turns having access to the FBI report in shifts, according to a senior Senate official. For example, Republicans will spend an hour with the report from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. Thursday, then Democrats will have an hour with the report. It will rotate throughout the rest of the day Thursday and potentially into Friday, with senators being briefed by staff members simultaneously. 

But even before the report was formally sent to the Senate, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford — the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault — criticized what they viewed as an incomplete FBI probe.

“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation,” her legal team said in a statement. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”

Earlier Wednesday, a trio of Republican senators crucial to Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects criticized President Trump for mocking the account of a woman who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault decades ago.

In separate interviews, Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — considered swing votes on Kavanaugh — took issue with comments the president made the night before at a political rally in Mississippi that drew laughs from his supporters.

“There’s no time and no place for remarks like that,” Flake said on NBC’s “Today” show. “To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. It’s just not right. I wish he hadn’t done it. . . . It’s kind of appalling.”

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Flake, the Judiciary Committee member who pushed to delay the vote on Kavanaugh so the FBI could investigate, later told The Washington Post that Trump’s comments would not factor into his thinking on the nomination.

“You can’t take it out on other people, the president’s insensitive remarks,” he said. 

The impact on Collins and Murkowski was less clear.

About two hours after Flake’s appearance, Collins also took exception to Trump’s remarks, telling reporters, “The president’s comments were just plain wrong.” She did not answer a question about whether the comments could affect how she votes on Kavanaugh.

Speaking to reporters early Wednesday afternoon, Murkowski said: “I thought the president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable.”

Asked whether the comments would affect her vote, she said: “I am taking everything into account.”

In his most direct attack on Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault while both were teenagers in Maryland, Trump on Tuesday night had sought to cast doubt the account Ford gave in sworn testimony to the Judiciary Committee last week.

But a number of the statements Trump highlighted — such as the year and room location of the attack — were in fact issues that Ford has been specific and consistent about. Ford has said that the incident happened in an upstairs room at a gathering of teenagers and that she is “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, although she has acknowledged that her memories of other details of the evening remain unclear.

Trump’s comments at Tuesday’s rally prompted a debate that played out on cable television and elsewhere over whether he had hurt his nominee’s chances.

Among those who weighed in was Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who, joining other allies, wrongly asserted that everything Trump had said was factual. But Graham said he took issue with Trump’s tone.

“I would tell him, ‘Knock it off, you’re not helping,’ ” Graham said during an appearance at the Atlantic Festival.

“This is what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill,” Graham added, paraphrasing an infamous line used by James Carville, a former campaign strategist for President Bill Clinton, to refer to a Clinton accuser.

The Daily 202: Trump’s mockery of Christine Blasey Ford underscores his scorn for the #MeToo movement

Besides Flake, Collins and Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) also have yet to announce how they will vote. 

While trying to round up votes on his side, McConnell has also taken sharp aim at Democrats, accusing them of trying to “move the goal posts” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight by suggesting that Friday would be too soon for a key vote on him. 

“If my friends across the aisle had their way, the goal posts on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination would be in another time zone,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired back in remarks after McConnell, saying the week-long delay to let the FBI investigate came at the request of Republican senators who were not prepared to vote for Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“Man up and say it’s your decision, not ours,” Schumer said.

At a White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted a double standard when it comes to questioning the testimony of Ford and questioning the testimony of Kavanaugh.

She declined to say whether Trump still believes Ford was credible, as he had said previously.

The Latest: Attorney blasts Trump for mocking Ford at rally

Besides Ford, two other women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of misconduct while he was in high school or college. Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while they were students at Yale University, has been interviewed by the FBI.  A third accuser, Julie Swetnick, said in an affidavit that Kavanaugh was present at a house party in 1982 where she was the victim of a gang rape. 

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied all allegations of misconduct. 

Some Democrats have voiced concerns about the scope of the FBI probe, the extent to which the White House is limiting it and whether a week is long enough to conduct a thorough investigation.

As a vote nears, Democrats have also sought to highlight concerns about Kavanaugh’s temperament, pointing to moments in last week’s hearing in which he grew testy at senators and was emotional at other points.

During his television appearance, Flake reiterated that he, too, was concerned that Kavanaugh at times was “sharp and more partisan than a lot of us would like to see.”

But he said Kavanaugh’s tenure as a federal appeals court judge was also relevant.

“We’ve seen a record that he’s had on the court of collegiality and working with other members,” Flake said.

During his remarks, McConnell said it was completely understandable that Kavanaugh had grown “a little testy” at the hearing.

“I would ask any of my colleagues, how would you feel if your reputation had been destroyed in this mudslide?” he said.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.