Alexis Egeland

Friday, Sept. 28, 2018

Flake, despite uncertainty about allegations, will vote for Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake announced Friday that he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, just hours after an emotional daylong hearing with Kavanaugh and a woman who accused him of sexual assault decades ago.

Flake said he left Thursday’s hearing “with as much doubt as certainty” about the allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both in high school, and the defiant denials by Kavanaugh.

But Flake said he ultimately decided to vote for Kavanaugh because “our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence.”

The announcement appeared to give Republicans the critical vote needed on the Senate Judiciary Committee – with 11 Reupblicans and 10 Democrats – which is scheduled to vote on the nomination Friday afternoon. That would clear the way to a vote by the full Senate by next week – when the current eight-member Supreme Court is set to begin its new term.

Kavanaugh, who has been appointed to fill the seat opened when Justice Anthony Kennedy retired this summer, can be confirmed with a simple majority of the Senate. With the GOP holding 51 seats, Senate leaders will have to hold on to all Republican votes or convince some Democrats to cross the aisle.

The committee fight over Kavanaugh has been highly partisan, with members accusing each other of rushing the vote or trying to smear the nominee. That continued Friday morning, when Democrats briefly walked out of the hearing in which they were to vote on Kavanaugh.

Flake was the only senator who did not ask a question – or make a politically charged accusation toward senators across the aisle – at a daylong hearing in which Kavanaugh and Ford were the only witnesses.

“This is not a good process, but it’s all we’ve got,” Flake said late Thursday. “In the end there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today.”

Friday’s announcement follows several days in which Flake expressed misgivings about the charged nomination process and urged his colleagues to approach Thursday’s hearing with an open mind, without giving any indication as to his stand.

After four days of hearings earlier this month, Kavanaugh’s nomination appeared to be sailing toward approval until Ford’s allegations surfaced almost two weeks ago.

She said that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in 1982, when both were in high school in suburban Maryland. Ford said a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, put his hand over her mouth and tried to remove her clothes before she was able to get away.

Since Ford’s name became public less than a week ago, two other women have come forward to say they, too, were assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were in high school or college with him.

Kavanaugh has categorically and repeatedly denied all the accusations, a defense he repeated in Thursday’s hearing before going on the offensive and accusing Democrats of an “orchestrated political hit” on him.

When Ford’s allegations became public, Democrats demanded a delay in the process until the FBI could investigate the allegations. But Senate Republicans said it was their job, not the FBI’s, to investigate. Committee staff conducted numerous interviews that let to Thursday’s hearing with just Kavanaugh and Ford testifying.

Flake had been one of the Republicans calling for another hearing, saying in news reports shortly after Ford’s allegations were made public that he is “not comfortable voting yes” on the nomination until the Ford had a chance to tell her story.

“When Dr. Ford’s allegations against Judge Kavanaugh surfaced two weeks ago, I insisted that she be allowed to testify before the committee moved to a vote,” Flake said in a statement released by his office Friday.

“Yesterday, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ford, as well as a persuasive response from Judge Kavanaugh,” the statement said. “I wish I could express the confidence that some of my colleagues have conveyed about what either did or did not happen in the early 1980s.”

During Friday’s hearing, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, referred to Flake’s wrestling with the issue. But ultimately, Flake said in his statement, he felt compelled to vote for Kavanaugh.

The nomination battle has sparked days of protests in Washington. That continued Friday morning in a confrontation captured on network video, when one Kavanaugh opponent cornered Flake on his way to the committee hearing, holding open the door of the elevator he was in to confront him about his planned vote.