The Democrats got their way.
After a dramatic turn of events, President Trump on Friday finally acceded to Democratic demands and ordered the FBI to open an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, even as his Supreme Court nomination was confirmed for a full Senate vote.
“I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file,” Trump said in a statement. “As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
Hours earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Kavanaugh’s confirmation amid a flurry of chaotic last minute negotiations, which came one day after he adamantly denied sexually assaulting California professor Christine Blasey Ford who testified she was “100%” sure he was her alleged attacker.
The Judiciary Committee was split 11-10 along party lines in a vote preceded by a chaotic morning fraught with emotion as protesters descended upon Capitol Hill and Democrats continued to voice their opposition to Republican efforts to speed up the process of confirming Kavanaugh.
Moments before the panel convened in the morning, outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced he would vote to advance the nominee. He said Kavanaugh, currently an appeals court judge, was entitled to the “presumption of innocence ... absent corroborating evidence.”
But the senator, who had been on the fence about Kavanaugh’s nomination, was later confronted by a pair of women in an elevator who said they were rape survivors and passionately implored him to change his mind.
“Don't look away from me," one woman told a visibly uncomfortable Flake through tears. "Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happens to me.”
Flake later huddled with Democrats in an anteroom off the main chamber ahead of the 1:30 p.m. vote. He emerged and said he would not back Kavanugh’s confirmation in the full Senate without an FBI investigation and a week’s delay.
“We ought to do what we can to make sure we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake said. “This country is being ripped apart here.”
Republican leaders begrudgingly agreed to the delay.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said, “There's going to be a supplemental background investigation," which would delay a vote "no later than one week.”
Democrats have repeatedly asked for such a probe as a political firestorm erupted around Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Republicans and Trump have insisted it's not necessary.
A Democratic aide close to the confirmation process was pleased after Trump’s announcement.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” the source told the Daily News.
Kavanaugh continued to maintain his innocence.
“I’ve been interviewed by the FBI, I’ve done a number of ‘background’ calls directly with the Senate, and yesterday, I answered questions under oath about every topic the Senators and their counsel asked me,” Kavanaugh said in a statement released by the White House. “I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate.”
Several Democrats walked out of the committee meeting Friday morning in protest, but returned for the vote and Flake’s change of heart.
The heated political battle around Kavanaugh has raged as the future make-up of the Supreme Court precariously hangs in the balance. The conservative jurist who once worked for the George W. Bush White House could swing the court to the right for a generation.
The Republicans hold a tight 51-49 majority in the Senate and a small handful of moderate lawmakers could make all the difference.
While walking into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Friday afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), one of the key votes, said “yes,” when asked if she supports Flake's proposal.
“Yes I do. It has to be limited in time and scope,” she said.
The dramatic vote unfolded a day after both Kavanaugh and psychology Ford testified before the panel.
Ford insisted Thursday that she’s “100%” sure a drunken Kavanaugh assaulted her at a Maryland house party in 1982, when they were both in high school.
Ford’s testified that a drunken young Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and clasped a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. A friend of her alleged attacker stood by and she recalled “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Several other women have since come forward with similar claims.
Kavanaugh followed with a tearful and at-times aggressive rebuttal, refuting Ford’s claims and accusing Democrats of playing politics.
Trump earlier Friday called Ford’s testimony “credible” and “compelling” and indicated he has his doubts about the fate of his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
"I don’t know if this is going to continue onward or if we’re going to get a vote,” he said.
As the FBI is now set to reopen Kavanaugh’s file, agents will interview accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details that could help corroborate or disprove the allegations.
Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. In her gripping testimony, Ford said Kavanaugh and Judge's laughter during the incident has stuck with her nearly four decades later.
Judge has said he does not recall any such incident, and a Democratic motion Friday to subpoena him was blocked by Republicans in a vote. But he later said he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency investigating the assault claims, according to a statement provided by his lawyer.
“What the FBI will do is to interview everyone involved, like Mark Judge for example,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told The News. “They’re going to ask detailed questions and follow up on those and confront them with evidence. They’ll also gather information and run down leads such as 'when did Mark Judge work at Safeway.’ ”
Several institutions were swift in either rescinding their support or backing the idea of an investigation into Kavanaugh’s past.
The American Bar Association pushed for a delay until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims.
Before Trump’s announcement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the idea, telling reporters ahead of Flake’s proposal that Kavanaugh has already “been through six separate background investigations by the FBI.”
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States rescinded its endorsement, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and "should be withdrawn.”
"If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman's report of an assault," the America magazine editors wrote. "Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country."
The dean of Kavanaugh’s alma mater, Yale Law School, also called on the panel to postpone its vote.