Move comes after Republican senator Jeff Flake threatened to oppose nomination without further examination of allegations
Donald Trump has directed the FBI to launch a supplemental investigation into the supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, after an extraordinary display of 11th-hour drama at the Senate judiciary committee vote to advance his confirmation on Friday.
Trump said in a statement that the updated investigation into his nominee for America’s highest bench “must be limited in scope” and “completed in less than one week”. However, he later suggested in a tweet that it was only a matter of time before Kavanaugh was appointed.
Senate Republicans voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination despite a last-minute change of heart by a Republican senator, who broke ranks and called for an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations that have roiled the judge’s confirmation process.
Moments before the Senate judiciary committee voted 11-10, along strict party lines, to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the floor for the full chamber’s consideration, Senator Jeff Flake announced he would support a “limited” FBI investigation and threatened to oppose Kavanaugh if there was no further examination of the allegations against him.
“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to and not more than one week in order to let the FBI do an investigation,” Flake said at the hearing on Friday.
Following Flake’s insistence, the Senate judiciary committee later said it was formally requesting that the Trump administration instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental background investigation that would be “limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today”.
The decision marks a reversal for the administration, which had argued that Kavanaugh had already been vetted.
The remarkable turnaround came hours after Flake announced his support for Kavanaugh despite dramatic testimony on Thursday that saw the supreme court nominee and Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who accused him of sexual assault, deliver dueling testimony on Capitol Hill.
Flake, who had been regarded as a crucial swing vote, reversed course after he was confronted by two survivors of sexual assault in an elevator shortly before Friday’s committee vote.
The confrontation with Flake could be seen in TV footage blocking the Arizona senator from closing the elevator door. Through her tears, one woman said she had been a victim of sexual assault, and begged Flake to look her in the eye. She said: “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.”
The gripping exchange appeared to have had an impact on Flake, who subsequently sat stone-faced in the committee room in anticipation of the vote. As his Republican colleagues took turns declaring their support for Kavanaugh, Flake abruptly left the room to engage in private discussions with Democrats on the committee.
Nearly an hour of tense, closed-door deliberations followed, pushing the vote past its scheduled time. As members exited and re-entered the room several times, seeking to make sense of what was transpiring behind-the-scenes, Flake finally re-emerged before the committee and voiced support delaying a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh pending a FBI investigation.
“We can have a short pause and make sure the FBI can investigate,” he said.
During Thursday’s hearing, Ford recounted how Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when the two were teenagers in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the charge from Ford, who testified to lawmakers under oath that she was “100%” sure he assaulted her.
According to her lawyer, Ford welcomed the FBI investigation, but said “no artificial limits as to time or scope should be imposed on it”.