Washington • It’s likely that next week, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh will don a black robe and fill the vacant seat on the right end of the bench on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The FBI finished its quick follow-up review of Kavanaugh after allegations by three women of sexual misconduct, and senators spent Thursday morning perusing the document in a secure room at the Capitol, with two of the swing voters on the confirmation signaling that they’d back the nominee.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the report “appears to be a thorough investigation” though she didn't say how she would eventually vote.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had paused the confirmation vote and demanded the FBI look into allegations against Kavanaugh, told reporters that “we’ve seen no additional corroborating information” about the accusations.
The Senate plans a procedural vote Friday on Kavanaugh, currently a federal circuit court judge, that would clear the way for a final confirmation vote Saturday.
Court observers say Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court would likely tilt it to the right for a generation.
Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah, as expected, gave a full-throated endorsement of Kavanaugh and said they’d support President Donald Trump’s nominee.
“We have found nothing, absolutely nothing, to corroborate the allegations against him,” Hatch said at a news conference. “We need to confirm him right away.”
Hatch, who has strongly defended Kavanaugh against his accusers, said he would do everything he can to get Kavanaugh on the bench and railed against Democrats for trying to upend the nomination with last-minute allegations.
“To put him through this type of a mess just because they are unhappy that Donald Trump had the right to appoint him," Hatch said, “is just plain wrong.”
Protesters against Kavanaugh have swarmed the Capitol complex this week, confronting senators when they appear in the public hallways.
A group of them followed Hatch on Thursday afternoon as he left his office to head to the Capitol, a moment caught on video and that went viral on social media.
In the short clip, Hatch waves his hand at the female demonstrators and tells them to “grow up” after they shouted at him repeatedly about his support for Kavanaugh. Capitol Police, who provide a protection detail for Hatch since he is president pro tempore and third in line for the presidency, asked the women to step back and threatened arrest if they didn’t.
Hatch, one of several senators whose home addresses and personal phone numbers were posted on Wikipedia last week, castigated people for harassing him.
“In the last two weeks, Senator Hatch has had his private information shared online by a Democrat staffer during a hearing, putting him and his family in danger,” said Hatch’s deputy chief of staff Matt Whitlock. “He has been screamed at and harassed by the very same protesters who tried to prevent confirmation hearings from even happening. Republicans have received every kind of death threat imaginable — all for supporting Judge Brett Kavanaugh. But Senator Hatch will not be intimidated.”
Lee, who was originally on Trump’s short list for the nomination, also is backing Kavanaugh.
“This is a man of outstanding character who has led an exemplary life,” Lee said, noting that Kavanaugh and his family had to endure “a lot of humiliation” and the process has been “difficult for him.”
Three women have come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of inappropriate actions while in high school and college. One, Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh, in a drunken state, pinned her down and groped her when they were both teenagers. She escaped before he was able to take her clothes off but feared she might suffocate when Kavanaugh covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream, she told the committee.
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations and swore under oath that he never acted in any fashion as described by Ford.
Democrats on Thursday labeled the FBI investigation, which launched Friday and wrapped up in days, as a sham since agents didn't question Ford or Kavanaugh or many other people allegedly involved.
“Last week’s hearing is no substitute for FBI interviews, especially when you consider the tenor of Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “When he wasn’t yelling and demeaning senators, he was making misleading statements that cast doubt on his overall trustworthiness. I don’t think that would happen with FBI agents seated across the table.”
Another swing voter, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Thursday she would oppose Kavanaugh, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was undecided.
Other Democrats and independents are expected to oppose the nominee.
“Dr. Ford’s credible allegations and Judge Kavanaugh’s partisan, venomous rant are sufficient reasons to vote no on his nomination,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said from the Senate floor.
Republicans hold 51 seats in the chamber and could afford to lose one vote and still approve Kavanaugh if Vice President Mike Pence casts the deciding ballot.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, hasn't said how she would vote.
While Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceeds, efforts to halt the vote continue. More than 1,000 law professors, including several in Utah, signed a letter opposing Kavanaugh and said he does not have the temperament to be one of the top nine jurists in the country.
“We aspire to have a ‘government of laws,’ and a key element to the rule of law in our country is judicial impartiality,” said Matthew Jennejohn, an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University. “Ultimately, that impartiality is secured by values within our profession. In my view, Judge Kavanaugh openly disregarded those values in his partisan and intemperate testimony last Thursday. I joined the letter not only to point out his disqualifying temperament but also to show my students that these values are critically important. We maintain them only by speaking up.”
University of Utah law professor Robin Kundis Craig, who was traveling in New Zealand, where she noted Kavanaugh was big news as well, said the nominee has proven he doesn’t have the temperament to sit on the bench.
“Part of a law professor's job is to teach professionalism to the next generations of lawyers and judges,” she said. “There was a perception on my part and, obviously, lots of my colleagues, that Judge Kavanaugh — whatever his other qualification — was not displaying the calm, impartial desire to get to the truth that I think is critical for a Supreme Court justice to have.”
A group of more than 1,000 Mormon men also signed an open letter to the six Mormons in the Senate — Hatch, Lee, Flake and Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Dean Heller of Nevada — citing Latter-day Saint scripture to argue against confirming Kavanaugh: “When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”
“We saw Dr. Ford speak with thoughtfulness, clarity, and conviction as she described the trauma that she endured at the hands of Judge Kavanaugh. She was credible. We believe her,” the letter reads.
“By contrast, we saw in Judge Kavanaugh’s behavior hostility, belligerence, and animus. We saw a man who already holds a great deal of power and influence display an alarming lack of candor, decorum, impartiality, composure, wisdom, humility, and judiciousness — basic qualifications for a judge."
The group Mormon Women for Ethical Government, which includes about 6,000 Latter-day Saint adherents and had previously urged a halt to confirmation proceedings, urged the Senate to weigh the allegations against Kavanaugh carefully.
“The members of the Senate are now tasked with the solemn duty of fairly weighing the available evidence and testimony,” the group said. “If they believe that Judge Kavanaugh may have committed sexual assault, then he should not be confirmed. Moreover, if they believe that Judge Kavanaugh has lied or deceived the Senate and the public in his sworn testimony, he should not be confirmed. Most importantly, the Senate should adhere to the basic standard that Supreme Court justices must be impartial and independent, with a rational and judicious temperament and a commitment to fairness.”
This Mormon women’s organization is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kavanaugh’s nomination, filling the seat vacated by retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, has turned an already divided Washington into a partisan battleground.
Trump, at a news conference, suggested he had dirt on a Democratic senator whose drinking put him in a “compromising” situation.
Democrats charged that the FBI was hamstrung in its short investigation and key witnesses, including Ford, were not interviewed.
“To say that this investigation exonerates Judge Kavanaugh, or to say that this is a complete investigation, is patently false,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Judiciary Committee “Chairman [Chuck] Grassley’s claim that there is no hint of misconduct in these documents is just not true.”
The FBI's report on Kavanaugh was not released publicly and only senators and a handful of staffers were able to view it.
"What we know for sure is the FBI report did not corroborate any of the allegations against judge Kavanaugh,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The second thing we know for sure is that there's no way anything we did would satisfy the Democrats.”
The Supreme Court began its session Monday with a vacant chair.
Tribune reporter Scott Pierce contributed to this story.