How Donald Trump and Senate Republicans Just Played Brett KavanaughPhoto by Pool/Getty Politics Features Brett Kavanaugh
The Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bizarre and befuddling meeting Friday morning, voted to move Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation out of committee to the next step of a general floor vote — seemingly, however, with the caveat of a one-week FBI investigation into the sexual allegations against him.
In other words, the entire GOP leadership seems to have made a 180-degree turn in the last twenty-four hours.
The uncharacteristically reasonable and moral decision was catalyzed by retiring Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who issued a statement yesterday morning that seemingly expressed his support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Not long after, though, Flake huddled with committee members, including Democrats, and, arriving last to his seat for the committee vote, said, visibly flustered, that he would vote to move Kavanaugh out of committee, but would only participate in a floor vote after a week-long independent FBI investigation in to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that the nominee sexually assaulted her.
Good on Flake. But something is up. From there it got much, much weirder. With the exception of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hasn’t made a statement as of this writing, the entire GOP leadership, including President Trump, pulled a 180 flip from what they said just yesterday.
For instance, during this morning’s publicly televised meeting, committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley — who just yesterday had been adamant about the uselessness of an FBI investigation — also said an FBI investigation would be appropriate. After the committee adjourned, Senator Lindsey Graham — who just yesterday castigated his Democratic colleagues for conspiring to obstruct the nomination process by calling for an investigation — praised Flake’s motion as preserving the integrity of the committee and the nomination process.
So far, GOP Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, as well as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, have also backed Flake’s call for an investigation.
It gets weirder.
Moments later, President Trump was asked in the middle of an unrelated press conference what he thought of Flake’s proposal. Trump said he was open to the idea, and called Dr. Ford “lovely” and said her testimony was “compelling” and “credible.” Trump even expressed doubt the nomination would even progress from here: “I don’t know if this is going to continue onward or if we’re going to get a vote.” Last night, though, he tweeted this: “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
And it turns out the Senate won’t, at least not without a week-long FBI investigation. Yesterday afternoon, GOP Senator John Cornyn confirmed that the floor vote will not move ahead until this investigation is completed.
So if even Trump is backing off, I’d say this is just about over. So what happened in the last twenty-four hours?
One plausible answer is that the Senate believes it can minimize the information turned up by an FBI investigation. After all, these background investigations are designed to compile information, not offer judgment or reach conclusions. Similarly, the GOP might be confident they’ll be able to limit the scope of the investigation in order to assure nothing damning arises from it. This is unlikely because the FBI has pretty wide dominion over these things. But there is a third likely possibility here.
It seems the GOP has hung Kavanaugh out to dry. Thursday’s contentious and insane defense of Kavanaugh — who apparently lied three times under oath during his own hearing — appears to have been political theater: A GOP performance to lay the rails to tell their base that they did all they could to support Kavanaugh, that they gave him a chance to speak and trusted him, knowing that he would likely fall in the event of an investigation and more evidence.
There’s also evidence they knew about this evidence.
This morning, Michael Avenatti — the attorney who represents porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against the President — posted another email he’d sent Grassley’s top aide about additional accusations one of his clients, Julie Swetnick, has made against Kavanaugh. Her sworn accusations include the charge that Kavanaugh at minimum, routinely got girls chemically incapacitated at high school house parties so that his friends could gang rape them. It’s unclear whether Kavanaugh will be specifically alleged to have taken part in the rapes, or that he merely drugged girls so they could be raped over and over and over.
Avenatti had also told Grassley’s aide that his client was prepared to speak with the FBI, and to testify under oath in front of the Senate with at least one other witness. The attorney said in another post he was about to bring forth even more evidence this weekend to support his client’s claim.
The Montgomery County police have said they are exploring these allegations, and additional reporting has suggested they’ve been looking into a case already. It’s unclear whether they are the same cases.
It seems all but certain that the GOP has cut Kavanaugh loose. One week is a long time for an FBI investigation. If Avenatti has credible evidence forthcoming — and it seems the GOP believes he does — this will get much uglier. It’s also quite likely the GOP really does believe Kavanaugh lied in his blanket denials that he assaulted Dr. Ford. In fact, an entry in one of the calendars Kavanaugh himself submitted to the Senate as exculpatory “evidence” — and in his hearing cried forcibly over like an entitled brat with minimal emotional depth and experience of consequences or life generally in America — actually seems to describe a party EXACTLY like the one Dr. Ford described, down to the names of people there.
Kavanaugh lied under oath about this.
For such an accomplished person, what an idiot.
Arrogance makes you stupid. But the GOP, for whatever reason, is doing the right thing. They could have had this theatrical trap set for Kavanaugh the whole time as a sacrifice to appeal to their base, or they could truly just now be reacting to new information from Avenatti and/or elsewhere. In any case, it’s a big deal: A week is a long time, longer than the three or four days some Democrats suggested yesterday, and we can probably expect Kavanaugh to withdraw before it’s over. After the trauma his insulting and indecent hearing produced for the country at large — and for survivors of sexual assault in particular — today offers at least some relief, some hope for democracy and the preservation of basic human dignity in the United States. Sadly, it seems to take an Alabama pedophile and a credibly accused serial sexual assaulter to get us there. But it’s better than nothing, I suppose.
I like to think, however, that it’s thanks to the woman who confronted Senator Flake in an elevator after he released his statement that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh. She was a survivor of rape, and she had this to tell him:
I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter. Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.
If that one woman’s bravery changed history, it’s justice.