Top Republicans voiced confidence Thursday that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the US Supreme Court this weekend, as they asserted that an FBI probe had found nothing to support sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump's nominee.
"Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed on Saturday," Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters.
"Hopefully, we're 48 hours away from having a new person on the Supreme Court," he added.
"I hope we can just move forward and get this done," said another senior Republican senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah.
"I apologize to him for the way he's been treated," Hatch said.
He defended the FBI investigation into the sexual assault accusations against the 53-year-old conservative appeals court judge, which Democrats have criticized as "incomplete" and "very limited."
"We have found nothing, nothing to corroborate accusations against him," Hatch said. I'm grateful to the FBI for their efforts in doing a thorough, very important investigation."
Kavanaugh's confirmation for a lifetime appointment on the nation's top court hinges on the votes of three Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski, in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.
None of the three was present at the press conference by the senior Republican lawmakers.
As they talked to reporters, a Democratic senator who had been seen as a potential vote for Kavanaugh, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, said she would oppose his confirmation.
The White House expressed confidence that nothing in a supplemental FBI investigation prompted by sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh would derail the Supreme Court nominee, as Senate Republicans press ahead with plans for a Friday test vote.
A top Senate Republican said Thursday the confidential FBI report on charges that Brett Kavanaugh sexually abused women three decades ago "found no hint of misconduct" by the Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, made his remarks — and urged his colleagues to confirm the conservative judge — in a written statement hours after the post-midnight delivery of the FBI document to Congress. With Kavanaugh's uncertain prospects for approval depending in part on the decisions of five wavering senators, lawmakers began viewing the document in a secure room in the Capitol complex.
"There's nothing in it that we didn't already know," Grassley contended, basing his comment on a briefing he said he'd received from committee aides. He added, "This investigation found no hint of misconduct."
Perhaps more importantly, two key senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, expressed satisfaction with the FBI report.
Collins, who has not indicated how she would vote, said that “It appears to be a very thorough investigation but I’m going back later to personally read the interviews.”
Flake told reporters, “We’ve seen no additional corroborating information.”
Collins, Flake and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are the critical votes that could ensure Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Democrats have complained that the FBI's reopening of its Kavanaugh background check has been far too limited, leaving out contact with crucial potential witnesses. They say some people had reached out to be interviewed by the FBI or the Judiciary Committee but were not questioned.
White House spokesman Raj Shah rebuffed that idea, saying, "What critics want is a never-ending fishing expedition into high school drinking." He said the FBI reached out to 10 people and interviewed nine, including "several individuals at the request of the Senate, and had a series of follow-up interviews ... following certain leads."
While the FBI interviews were to focus on sexual assault allegations, Democrats have also questioned his drinking habits during high school and college and dishonest comments they say he's made about his background. Kavanaugh has said stories of bad behavior while drinking are exaggerated.
Grassley said the FBI could not "locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations," and he said there is "no contemporaneous evidence." He provided no specific detail.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already started a process that will produce a crucial test vote in his polarized chamber Friday on Kavanaugh's fate. Should Republicans get the majority of votes they need — and Vice President Mike Pence is available to cast the tie-breaker, if necessary — that would set up a decisive roll call on his confirmation, likely over the weekend.
"Senators ought to wipe away the muck from all the mudslinging and politics and look at this nomination with clear eyes," Grassley said, echoing accusations against Democrats that McConnell has been making. He added, "It's time to vote. I'll be voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."
Three women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in separate incidents in the 1980s. Kavanaugh, 53, now a judge on the powerful District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, has denied the claims.
The White House received the FBI report around 3 a.m. Thursday.
President Donald Trump weighed in hours later in a tweet in which he denounced what he called "the harsh and unfair treatment" of Kavanaugh. "This great life cannot be ruined by mean" and "despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations!"
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois told reporters Thursday that time slots for reading the FBI file are so full that senators are being told they might have to wait until Friday to read it. "They're so swamped," she said.
The report arrived at a Capitol palpably tense over the political stakes of the nomination fight and from aggressive anti-Kavanaugh protesters who have rattled and reportedly harassed senators. Feeding the anxiety was an unusually beefy presence of the U.S. Capitol Police, who were keeping demonstrators and frequently reporters at arm's length by forming wedges around lawmakers walking through corridors.
Barring leaks, it was unclear how much of the FBI report, if any, would be made public. While senators from both sides have expressed support for revealing at least parts of the findings, FBI background checks on nominees are supposed to remain confidential.
With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 Senate majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still publicly undeclared, the conservative jurist's prospects of Senate confirmation could hinge largely on the file's contents.
The three undecided GOP senators rebuked Trump for mocking one accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, by mimicking her responses to questions at last week's dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters that Trump's lampooning of Ford at a Tuesday night Mississippi campaign rally was "just plain wrong." Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called it "wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable," and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on NBC's "Today" show that the remarks were "kind of appalling."
Those senators, along with Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have yet to declare how they will vote.
Trump drew laughs Tuesday with his rendition of how Ford answered questions at last week's hearing. "I had one beer — that's the only thing I remember," he stated inaccurately.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump's insults marked a "new low."
Underscoring rising tensions, Democrats suggested that previous FBI background checks of Kavanaugh may have unearthed misconduct by the nominee.
Democrats wrote to Grassley challenging a Tuesday tweet by GOP aides saying prior investigations never found "a whiff of ANY issue — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse." Democrats wrote that the GOP tweet contained information that is "not accurate."
Committee Republicans tweeted in response that their prior tweet was "completely truthful" and accused Democrats of "false smears."
The California psychology professor has testified that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually abused her in a locked room at a high school party in the 1980s and has said she believed he was trying to rape her.
The FBI interviewed several people, including three who Ford has said attended a 1982 high school gathering in suburban Maryland where she says Kavanaugh's attack occurred, plus another Kavanaugh friend. The agency has also spoken to a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a Yale party when both were freshmen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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