Hundreds of anti-Kavanaugh protesters arrested as Senate vote nears
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As angry protesters swamped Capitol Hill, the US Senate moved closer to confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Thursday after Republicans said a new FBI investigation found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against him.
Democrats assailed the latest FBI probe as "incomplete", "very limited" and constrained by a White House determined to push through the lifetime appointment of the conservative 53-year-old judge, nominated to the post by President Donald Trump.
"This investigation found no hint of misconduct," Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "There's nothing in it that we didn't already know."
Grassley said it was now time for the Senate to vote on Kavanaugh's nomination to the nation's highest court -- an appointment that could shift the nine-member panel to the right for decades to come.
"Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed on Saturday," Grassley told reporters. "Hopefully, we're 48 hours away from having a new person on the Supreme Court," he added.
"I hope we can just move forward and get this done," said another senior Republican senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah. "I apologise to him for the way he's been treated," Hatch said.
At the same time, thousands marched on the Supreme Court Thursday and many infiltrated the Hart Senate Office Building to hold loud sit-in protests against the judge.
Some held signs calling him a liar and "unfit" to serve. Police arrested 300 protesters, among them the comedian Amy Schumer.
"I believe Kavanaugh is part of a Big Old Boys club that is going to protect him no matter what," said Angela Trzepkowski, 55, from Delaware.
At a rally of supporters in Minnesota on Thursday night, Trump called Kavanaugh "one of the most respected," as his supporters chanted: "We want Kavanaugh."
Kavanaugh's confirmation for a lifetime appointment on the nation's top court hinges on the votes of three Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.
Speaking to reporters after reviewing the FBI report, Collins said it "appears to be a very thorough investigation."
Flake, a vocal Trump critic who pushed the White House into giving the FBI an additional week to look into the accusations against Kavanaugh, said the FBI report contained "no additional corroborating information."
The Senate is expected to first hold a vote to limit debate on the nominee Friday at 10:30 am (1430 GMT).
The Senate Judiciary Committee's top Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein said she had not yet had access to the entire report -- but that from what she had seen it appeared insufficient to lay to rest concerns about Kavanaugh.
"It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited perhaps by the White House, I don't know," Feinstein told reporters.
"We had many fears that this was a very limited process," added Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. "Those fears have been realised."
It is impossible to take this investigation seriously when so many key witnesses—including Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford—were not interviewed and constraints were imposed on what was asked and who was spoken to.Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) October 4, 2018
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California university professor, testified last week that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were teenagers -- allegations vehemently denied by the nominee during his testimony at the same hearing.
"These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations," Grassley said.
"It's time to vote," he said. "I'll be voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."
Kavanaugh, meanwhile made a highly unusual plea to defend his "impartiality" in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal Thursday.
"My hearing testimony was forceful and passionate. That is because I forcefully and passionately denied the allegation against me," Kavanaugh wrote in the Journal piece headlined: "I am an independent, impartial judge."
"I do not decide cases based on personal or policy preferences," he wrote, adding that the country's top court "must never be viewed as a partisan institution."
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called for an end to what he called "partisan histrionics" and the "politics of personal destruction" and for a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination.
The supplemental background investigation found absolutely zero corroboration of the allegations that have been made. I plan to vote for Judge Kavanaugh and believe he will be confirmed very soon.Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 4, 2018
"This process has been ruled by fear and anger and underhanded gamesmanship for too long," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Trump claimed the FBI report exonerated Kavanaugh and expressed optimism about Republican chances in the November midterm elections, where control of the House of Representatives and Senate could be at stake.
"This is now the 7th time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh," Trump said in a tweet. "If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats."
"The harsh and unfair treatment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters," Trump added. "The PEOPLE get it far better than the politicians.
"Most importantly, this great life cannot be ruined by mean & despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations," Trump said.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a panel now equally divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
This is now the 7th. time the FBI has investigated Judge Kavanaugh. If we made it 100, it would still not be good enough for the Obstructionist Democrats.Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2018
But his Senate confirmation process has been rocked by the allegations from Blasey Ford and takes place amid an atmosphere of bitter political partisanship in Washington.
Blasey Ford testified last week that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early 1980s while they were in high school.
Kavanaugh, in a fiery response, rejected the allegations and further sexual misconduct claims against him from two other women.
In the new background probe, the FBI contacted 10 people and interviewed nine, The New York Times reported. It was not clear why the 10th was not interviewed.
They include three people who Ford says were in the house at the time of the party. One is Mark Judge, who the professor says was in the room when Kavanaugh lay on top of her, ground his genitals against her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.
On Wednesday, the three Republican senators key to Kavanaugh's approval blasted Trump for mocking Ford's memory lapses at a political rally.
Collins denounced the president's comments as "just plain wrong" while Murkowski called Trump's speech "wholly inappropriate" and "unacceptable."
Flake, the third Republican swing vote, said there was "no time and no place for remarks like that."
"It's kind of appalling," he added.
As the Senate moved towards a vote, protestors were marching on the Supreme Court chanting "Say it loud, say it clear, Kavanaugh's not welcome here."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)