After tumultuous Kavanaugh hearing, swing-vote senators weigh judge's fate: 'It's a tough one'
Following an explosive and, at times, highly emotional day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eyes turned to several key swing-vote senators who remained outwardly undecided on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's fate late Thursday.
After the hearing, moderate Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, as well as Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., huddled to discuss the nomination, Fox News confirmed.
They talked for approximately 30 minutes before a GOP conference meeting Thursday evening ahead of Friday's planned Judiciary Committee vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh's confirmation to the full Senate.
Meanwhile, in a major boost to Kavanaugh's bid, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has frequently sparred with President Trump, announced he would support the nominee Thursday night.
“While both individuals provided compelling testimony, nothing that has been presented corroborates the allegation," Corker wrote in a statement, referring to Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor accusing him of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago. (Ford initially told The Washington Post she was attacked in the "mid-1980s," and claimed in July the date was in the "early 1980s," but she testified Thursday the episode occured sometime in 1982).
FORD'S POLYGRAPH REPORT APPEARS TO CONTRADICT HER PAST CLAIMS -- HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE AT THE PARTY?
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Fox News after the conference meeting that followed the hearing Thursday, "I think we’re going to go ahead. I worry about every one of these votes."
And Flake, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, told Fox News: "It’s a tough one. She offered good testimony, and so did he."
"If you’re making an allegation, you want there to be some corroboration," he added. "Where is the burden? It’s like impeachment. You don’t know."
Republicans, including President Trump, have stressed that none of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh made in the last several days has any first-hand corroboration.
Asked whether more time or investigating would help, as Democrats suggested repeatedly on Thursday, Flake seemed to reject the idea.
"Where does this start, and where does it end?" he asked. "More time, more ludicrous allegations. What does that do to the accused?"
"It’s a tough one. She offered good testimony, and so did he."
Kavanaugh, occasionally in tears, emphasized on Thursday that the barrage of threats and uncorroborated accusations against him had taken a permanent toll on his family and reputation.
Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., announced they would vote to confirm Kavanaugh after the hearing.
There were indications late Thursday that other crucial senators remained undecided. It is not necessary for Kavanaugh to secure the majority approval of the Judiciary Committee in order to advance to the full Senate and be confirmed; in 1991, Clarence Thomas was not recommended by the committee before ultimately becoming a justice.
"There have been no decisions," Manchin reportedly said outside the hearing room. "There are some concerns that people have, and we’re going to try to close the loop."
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Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, and can only afford one defection in their bid to confirm Kavanaugh, assuming they secure no Democratic votes.
After hours of testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, Manchin said simply, "both witnesses were credible," according to CNN.
Fox News has learned that Republicans' tentative plan is to hold a final confirmation vote on Kavanaugh before the full Senate sometime next week.
On Thursday morning, Collins voiced reservations about moving forward on Kavanaugh's confirmation without issuing a subpoena to his friend Mark Judge, who Ford claimed was in the room when he allegedly assaulted her in the 1980s.
Murkowksi was photographed huddling with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, sparking a flurry of speculation on social media.
Collins and Murkowski are not on the Judiciary Committee, so they will not participate in the planned vote Friday morning.
Flake didn't ask Kavanaugh any questions during the hearing. Instead, he opted to give a general statement without committing firmly one way or the other on his nomination. Flake previously had insisted that Ford be allowed to testify before an up-or-down vote on Kavanaugh.
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In an apparent effort to appeal to senators on the fence, as well as to clear his name and unload on what he described as a deeply unfair and partisan process, Kavanaugh abandoned much of his prepared remarks to blast the proceedings as a "disgrace" and a "circus."
He later sparred with Democratic senators as they questioned him, saying his family and reputation had been "destroyed" by the uncorroborated claims suddenly brought against him. The hearing ended Thursday evening after eight hours worth of testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh.
"This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he told the committee. "The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process. But you have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy."
"This confirmation process has become a national disgrace."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also let loose on his Democratic colleagues during the proceedings, which he called a "sham" hearing to probe sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, in a display that earned him praise from the White House and scorn from the left.
Graham alleged the Democrats' handling was all about politics.
"This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics," a visibly angry Graham said from the dais while pointing at Democratic senators. "And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn't have done what you've done to this guy."
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Ford first brought her allegations to Feinstein's attention in July, but the California Democrat didn't disclose the allegations to her Senate colleagues or federal authorities until days before a crucial Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation earlier this month. Republicans have accused Feinstein's office of compromising Ford's anonymity by sitting on the allegations until she could deploy them in a leak for maximum political gain.
In a dramatic moment Thursday, Feinstein claimed under questioning from Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, R-Tex., that the full text of Ford's letter had never leaked, even though The Washington Post reported earlier this month that it had obtained the full text of the letter. Feinstein suggested Ford's friends, not her staffers, had leaked information about the letter.
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None of the witnesses Ford has identified as being present at the party where she was allegedly assaulted -- including Leland Ingham Keyser, her best friend at the time -- have said they remember anything about the episode. Asked about Keyser's statement, Ford suggested on Thursday her friend was having medical issues.
In her testimony earlier in the day, Ford -- who had told Feinstein in her July letter that the party included "included me and 4 others" -- changed the tally, and told senators that there were four boys there, in addition to her female friend.
Additionally, Ford's therapist wrote in 2012 that Ford had said there were four boys in the room during her alleged assault, according to The Washington Post. Ford has since claimed, without evidence, that her therapist inaccurately recorded her statement that only two boys were in the room with her, and she has refused to provide her therapist notes to Senate investigators, citing privilege. During her testimony Thursday, Ford claimed she did not remember whether she had turned over her therapist notes to The Washington Post this summer, as opposed to simply recounting them to one of the paper's reporters.
In an August note Ford wrote in advance of a polygraph exam she took at the direction of her lawyers, she maintained that "there were 4 boys and a couple of girls" at the party, again contradicting her letter to Feinstein in July.
Ford also claimed she had been unaware of committee Republicans' offers, which were communicated publicly and to her attorneys, to fly out to California to meet with her so that they could expedite the hearings.
This story has been updated to reflect that Ford has claimed that her therapist inaccurately recorded her 2012 statement about the number of boys in the room during the alleged assault.
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Alex Pappas and Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report.