An emotional and history-making Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday has yielded a much-needed compromise: the panel agreed to recommend Brett Kavanaugh for a full Senate vote on the condition that the final vote does not take place until after a one-week FBI background investigation. In response, President Donald Trump has ordered an investigation.
When the explosive allegations first emerged, many Democrats demanded the FBI get involved. Kavanaugh has already undergone background checks during the nomination process; however, with all of the new accusations of past sexual misconduct, this supplemental probe has been deemed necessary. Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s last-minute change of heart helped swing the panel in favour of launching the investigation, though he will likely still vote in support of Kavanaugh. It’s possible that two women approaching him in a Senate elevator, telling Flake his actions tell women that “assault doesn’t matter” could have influenced his decision to call for an investigation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has requested Trump issue an investigation that is “limited to current credible allegations against the nominee,” to which Trump agreed. In a press conference, Trump called Ford’s testimony “compelling,” and described her as a reliable witness. He later reiterated his belief in Kavanaugh on Twitter, calling his testimony “powerful, honest, and riveting." It’s unclear if the FBI will only look into allegations related to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s case, or whether that includes the experiences of other women who have since come forward. The new deadline for the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh is October 5.
The FBI will likely be interviewing people Ford claimed were at the 1982 party and people who knew Ford and Kavanaugh at that time. "I think it will be better for the country that this FBI investigation occur," Senator Amy Klobuchar told NPR. "I'm not sure what the answers will be. It's possible some of the witnesses won't even agree to talk with FBI. But to think we wouldn't even try would be the saddest thing for the country." Already limited by the short turn around time, the FBI might face resistance when collecting interviews. Because it is a background investigation and not a criminal investigation, the FBI cannot subpoena witnesses in order to get them to talk, reports CNN. Mark Judge, an longtime friend of Kavanaugh’s who Ford claims was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her, has agreed to cooperate with the investigation though he categorically denies the claims. In a statement released by the White House on Friday, Kavanaugh said he will also cooperate with the expanded FBI investigation.
According to NPR, the FBI will only collect interviews, not pass judgment on the truthfulness of what the witnesses say. While the value of an investigation that is not allowed to draw conclusions may seem mixed, having special agents interview witnesses will likely glean more details in comparison to prepared statements. Additionally, cross-referencing past statements will be equally important. If there are discrepancies, this is where they will be brought to light. Once the week-long investigation has concluded, the FBI will submit their findings to the White House, who will then pass them on to the Senate to take into consideration for their final vote.