GOP Leaders Pledge to Give FBI Latitude in Kavanaugh Probe

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WASHINGTON—Senior Republicans said Monday they wouldn’t restrict who the FBI could question as part of its investigation into sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but said they planned to begin floor votes this week on his confirmation.

President Trump said Monday that he wanted a “comprehensive” inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, although he also made clear he desired quick action by the agency. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the Senate would begin voting this week on Judge Kavanaugh, meaning not much time would elapse between the end of the FBI’s investigation and such votes.

Republicans Monday fended off criticism they were rushing through a cursory probe and took pains to say that while they had limited it to “current and credible” allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, they never told the FBI which individuals to question. The FBI has already begun talking to several witnesses connected to Dr. Ford’s allegations, according to their attorneys.

“We didn’t give them any list,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) told reporters Monday. “The agreement was to [look into] current and credible allegations,” he said.

Mr. Trump said he is open to dropping his support for Judge Kavanaugh depending on the outcome of the FBI probe. “I’m waiting, just like you,” he said. “Certainly if they find something I’m going to take that into consideration. ... I have a very open mind.”

While, the FBI has spoken to several people, they haven’t talked to California college professor Christine Blasey Ford who first brought the allegations of misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh. The FBI has talked to Mark Judge, who Dr. Ford said was present when she was sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh at a house party when they were teenagers, according to a lawyer for Mr. Judge. The interview with Mr. Judge isn’t complete, the lawyer said.

Investigators have also spoken with Deborah Ramirez, who told the New Yorker that Judge Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while drunk when they were at Yale University, according to her attorney. Judge Kavanaugh has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct and characterized them as a political smear.

An attorney for P.J. Smyth, one of the boys Dr. Ford identified as also being at the gathering, said Monday his client had spoken to the FBI. Mr. Smyth repeated his earlier statement that he doesn’t know anything about the allegations, attorney Eric Bruce said.

The FBI declined to comment.

Mr. Trump on Monday weighed in an aspect of Judge Kavanaugh’s comments last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee that have drawn increasing amounts of attention—his youthful drinking, specifically whether he was truthful in describing how much he drank. Taking questions after an event about a new trade deal, Mr. Trump heaped praise on Judge Kavanaugh, commending him for conceding that he at times drank too much. “I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer and he’s had a little bit of difficulty.”

Mr. Trump went on to say that he doesn’t drink and “can honestly say I’ve never had a beer in my life.” He added, “Can you imagine, if I had, what a mess I’d be? I’d be the world’s worst.”

For the White House and Senate GOP leaders, the goal of the FBI investigation is to address the concerns of the critical group of undecided GOP senators who said they needed more information before they could support Judge Kavanaugh. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all said the FBI should be free to follow the investigation where it goes this week.

Mr. Flake said he was in discussions with Senate colleagues and the White House counsel’s office about the investigation. “We certainly want the FBI to do a real investigation and we are working to make sure that that happens,” Mr. Flake told an audience in Boston.

While Judge Kavanaugh has categorically the specific allegation made by Dr. Ford, he has said that while he occasionally drank too many beers, he never blacked out from drinking. It wasn’t clear Monday whether the FBI would speak to a third woman, Julie Swetnick, who said in the early 1980s she attended parties at which Judge Kavanaugh would “spike” the punch and “target” women, grabbing them without their consent.

An FBI investigation into allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh may decide the fate of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday looks at key senators to watch leading up to the confirmation vote. Photo: Getty Images

The back-burner debate over whether Judge Kavanaugh was truthful about his drinking habits in his testimony intensified Monday, as additional classmates said the nominee had drunk more than he claimed.

On Sunday, Chad Ludington, a classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s at Yale, said in a statement to several news outlets that he had witnessed Judge Kavanaugh “staggering from alcohol consumption” and that he was “often belligerent and aggressive” when drunk, even starting a fight that ended with a mutual friend going to jail.

“Many on my side felt that Judge Kavanaugh made just blanket assertions on things where there’s already in the press contradictory evidence from classmates or roommates,” Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday.

The White House released statements from two other Yale classmates, who said they never saw Judge Kavanaugh blackout from drinking or behave aggressively while drunk.

One person close to Judge Kavanaugh said the judge is frustrated with the current situation but hopeful he will be clearly vindicated by the FBI probe. “He’s not happy about the process,” this person said. “But in a way, he’s heartened by the fact that there will be a conclusion that will hopefully clear his name.”

Republicans said the questions around Judge Kavanaugh’s drinking was an example of Democrats “moving the goalposts” on their demands.

Hearing Brings Nation to Standstill

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, give hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh prepares to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to sexual-assault allegations against him.

Erin Schaff/Press Pool

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“The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. While Mr. Flake and the other undecided GOP senators have said they won’t vote for Judge Kavanaugh until the FBI has completed its report, Mr. McConnell could still take a procedural step this week to pave the way for a quicker Senate vote once the bureau is done with its work. The FBI inquiry, which is set to last as long as a week, was brokered by Mr. Flake and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last Friday, Mr. Flake used the threat of withholding his support for Judge Kavanaugh to force GOP leaders, who hold a narrow 51-49 edge in the Senate.

Lawmakers said they hoped to get detailed readouts from the FBI before they are asked to vote. Mr. Cornyn said he expected that once the FBI had interviewed witnesses, it would provide senators “with a written document which shows what the witness said.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) asked the FBI to brief senators on their findings before lawmakers are asked to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

—Jennifer Levitz, Andrew Duehren and Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article.

Write to Natalie Andrews at [email protected], Peter Nicholas at [email protected] and Kristina Peterson at [email protected]