PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse struck an optimistic tone about the future of the nomination process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh after Republicans agreed to delay the full Senate vote on the Supreme Court nominee so that an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct could be investigated.
“I have been hammering on this question of an FBI investigation, because without it we don’t have the processes in place to actually find out what the facts were,” Whitehouse said a telephone interview with Eyewitness News Friday afternoon. “And whose stories add up and whose stories don’t.”
RIGHT NOW: @KimKalunian interviewing @SenWhitehouse by phone, asking about the possibility of an FBI investigation before the full Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. More coming up tonight on @wpri12 pic.twitter.com/zBLYARXaGa— Corey Welch (@CoreyWelch) September 28, 2018
The interview came shortly after a dramatic afternoon meeting of the Judiciary Committee, where senators voted 11-10 to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. But shortly before the vote was taken, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said he would only vote in favor of Kavanaugh if Senate leaders would delay the full floor vote for a week so that an FBI investigation could take place.
Around 5 p.m., in a reversal of his previous stance, President Donald Trump ordered the FBI to conduct the investigation. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a statement from the president that read: “I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file. As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
“I hope they do a sincere and thorough job,” Whitehouse said. “Having worked as U.S. Attorney, I have a high opinion of the FBI. Once they are deployed they tend to be very professional.”
Whitehouse voted no on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Whitehouse and his fellow Democrats have been calling for an FBI investigation since last week, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly with allegations in the Washington Post, claiming that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers in 1982.
Both Ford and Kavanaugh testified before the Judiciary Committee Thursday, where Democratic members repeatedly questioned why the FBI would not reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.
Flake’s decision that he would not vote for Kavanaugh without an FBI investigation was a big turning point, as it began to appear Friday that Republicans would not have enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh without reopening the probe.
“I doubt that Mitch McConnell wants to take the chance of a floor vote on Kavanaugh knowing that Flake may vote against Kavanaugh because the week was not provided,” Sen. Whitehouse said. “So he is in a hard position to jam a vote down their throats and expect them to vote yes.”
He called the delay in the vote a “terrific turn of events.”
Whitehouse also explained his role in an allegation against Kavanaugh from earlier this week – which was quickly recanted – about an alleged sexual assault of a woman on a boat in Newport, Rhode Island in the 1980’s. The man who reportedly made the allegation quickly recanted it on Twitter, but not before it was publicly reported as part of two new allegations Republican staffers asked Kavanaugh about in a phone call.
Sen. Whitehouse, who had received the accusation and passed it along to the staffs of Republican Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic ranking member, said he didn’t expect it to be made public before it was investigated.
“I think it was very unfortunate the way the majority staff handled that,” Whitehouse said. “I had specifically asked not only that his name not be released, but that identifiable stuff from his Twitter feed not be released, and they went out of their way to find a clever way to release that information and I think it’s very unfortunate for this individual. Had they not done that, I don’t think anybody would have known of this claim. It would have been treated properly, brought in, quietly reviewed, determined to be not worth pursuing, and quietly then gone away again.”
Kavanaugh referred to the recanted claim in his prepared remarks on Thursday, decrying what he called a “long series of false, last-minute smears designed to scare me and drive me out of the process before any hearing occurred. Gangs, illegitimate children, fights on boats in Rhode Island.”
Former Rhode Island judge Bob Flanders, the Republican running against Whitehouse for his senate seat this fall, said Friday that both Ford and Kavanaugh deserved to be heard in a fair and impartial way. He also criticized Whitehouse, who quizzed Kavanaugh about specific details of his high school yearbook page at Thursday’s hearing.
“Rather than engage in a genuine hunt for the truth, Senators from both parties used their time in the limelight to grandstand and play blatant partisan politics,” Flanders said. “No one displayed that more clearly than Rhode Island’s Junior Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse. While the nation was watching, Sheldon Whitehouse once again showed that he is a hyper-partisan attack dog rather than a serious lawmaker. His juvenile questioning about high school yearbooks and flatulation were a new low in our nation’s judicial nomination process.”