the kavanaugh confirmation

An FBI Investigation Could Become GOP’s Backup Plan on Kavanaugh

The FBI isn’t the GOP’s favorite law enforcement agency these days, but suddenly Republicans may need its stamp of approval on their SCOTUS nominee. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you have been following the Kavanaugh confirmation saga at all, you probably know that Republicans have repeatedly and contemptuously scoffed at the idea of an FBI investigation of the sexual-assault allegations lodged against the nominee by high-school classmate Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and now college classmate Deborah Ramirez. Calls for such an investigation were originally made by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats when Ford’s allegations came to light, and were rejected by committee chairman Chuck Grassley, the White House, and the FBI’s own overseers in the Justice Department. Ford herself asked for such an investigation in a formal letter to Grassley; he was unmoved, saying that senators were perfectly capable of adjudging the credibility of witnesses.

Most recently, in a New Yorker piece that brought Ramirez’s accusations into public view, she, too, suggested that the FBI investigate her story and Kavanaugh’s denials. In this case, Republicans (from the president on down) were too absorbed with dismissing her accounts and attacking her credibility to respond to her pleas for a neutral investigation of the facts. All along, Kavanaugh’s defenders denounced all these calls for FBI involvement as a mere dilatory tactic by Democrats to delay the judge’s confirmation.

So that’s a dead issue, right? Maybe not.

Lisa Murkowski is one of a few Republican senators thought to be still on the fence about Kavanaugh. And here’s what she had to say today:

Murkowski’s comment got the attention of National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who made the case that for the price of a few days’ delay, an FBI investigation might bolster Kavanaugh’s credibility. But here was his bottom line:

Lots of people reject all of this and say that the GOP should stop the circus and just vote right now. That would be a great idea if Kavanaugh had the votes. He doesn’t. And something will have to change for him to get them.

Viewed from that perspective, if you are inclined to believe Kavanaugh’s denials of wrongdoing, or think the allegations can’t be proven, then going to the FBI for a nod or a shrug is an acceptable compromise with a tough situation. Agreeing to an investigation could also conceivably shore up Kavanaugh’s sagging position in the court of public opinion.

Even if Republicans don’t follow Goldberg’s advice right away, it could become a plan B for them very soon if (a) Murkowski finds Republican Senate allies for her interest in an investigation, making it very clear Mitch McConnell can’t just “plow through” to a quick Senate vote and expect to win; or (b) Ford looks very credible in her Judiciary Committee hearing later this week. As Goldberg concludes:

Maybe Ford won’t show up Thursday (which is almost likely from the sound of things). Maybe she won’t be credible at all and that will be the end of it. But if she passes the threshold of sounding believable enough, it seems likely that the only choice will be calling the FBI.

Senate Republicans will have to eat a lot of their own words if they suddenly move in this direction. But particularly when it comes to the question of Supreme Court nominations, they’ve never let consistency get in their way before, have they? Just ask Merrick Garland.

An FBI Investigation Could Be GOP’s Backup Plan on Kavanaugh