WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican U.S. senator who could be pivotal in determining whether President Donald Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh gets to sit on the Supreme Court raised concerns on Tuesday about the judge’s “partisan” tone at last week’s hearing into sexual misconduct allegations.
As the FBI completed interviews with four people as part of its one-week investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, moderate Republican Senator Jeff Flake said he was worried about the conservative federal appeals court judge’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
“I was very troubled by the tone of the remarks. … The interaction with the members was sharp and partisan, and that concerns me,” Flake said.
“I tell myself, ‘You give a little leeway because of what he’s been through.’ But on the other hand, we can’t have this on the court. We simply can’t,” Flake told an event in Washington hosted by The Atlantic magazine.
Kavanaugh struck an angry and defiant tone during the hearing, denying allegations made by three women against him. He painted himself as the victim of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” by Democrats, lashing out at Democratic senators and frequently interrupting them.
Flake, who is retiring as a senator in January, is seen as potentially key figure in any vote in the full Senate on whether to confirm Kavanaugh.
A member of the Judiciary Committee, Flake voted to approve Kavanaugh in the panel’s vote on Friday that sent the nomination to the full Senate for consideration, but only after he requested that the FBI conduct an investigation of the sexual misconduct allegations against the nominee. Trump subsequently ordered the investigation.
Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor from California, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982 when they were high school students in Maryland.
Trump said on Tuesday he believed Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week, but it depends on what comes back in the FBI probe of sexual misconduct allegations.
“I want to see what happens with the FBI,” Trump told reporters at the White House before he left on a visit to Philadelphia.
Supreme Court nominations require Senate confirmation. Trump’s Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. That means if all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, Trump could not afford to have more than one Republican oppose his nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote.
The nomination has become a politically explosive issue just weeks before Nov. 6 elections, when control of Congress is at stake. Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans fear that pushing ahead with confirmation could alienate women voters, while Democrats seek to capitalize.
Flake said the FBI had completed interviews with four people. ABC News reported that the agency finished its interview with Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, who Ford identified as a witness to the assault. Judge has previously denied any memory of any such incident.
A White House official told Reuters over the weekend that as well as Judge, the FBI was due to question Deborah Ramirez, who has said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when both were Yale University students in the 1980s.
The FBI will also question Leland Keyser and P.J. Smyth, two people who Ford said were at the gathering of teenagers where Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her. A third woman who has accused the judge of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, Julie Swetnick, was not on the initial list of witnesses to be interviewed.
Senate Republicans compiled the list of four witnesses.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Senate would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation this week.
“But here’s what we know … one thing for sure. The Senate will vote on Judge Kavanaugh here, on this floor, this week. Here on this floor, this week,” McConnell told the chamber.
It was not clear if McConnell was referring to a final vote or an initial, procedural vote that would likely not be definitive.
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said she thought a Friday vote on Kavanaugh would not give senators enough time to evaluate the FBI probe.
“I believe it’s too soon,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told reporters. “It’s Tuesday, and we have to put all the facts together.”
Reporting by Richard Cowand and Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by David Morgan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham