Key senators call for FBI probe of Kavanaugh allegations as panel advances nomination

  • Four key senators said Friday they supported a delay on a floor vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI investigation of sexual assault allegations against the judge, as a Senate panel voted to advance the nomination.
  • Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, said that they supported delaying a floor vote in order to allow the FBI to conduct a weeklong investigation.
  • The idea was first broached by Flake, who announced the plan during a dramatic standoff ahead of the Judiciary Commitee's 11-10 party line vote on Kavanaugh's nomination.

Key senators said Friday they supported a delay on a floor vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI investigation of sexual assault allegations against the judge, as a Senate panel voted to advance the nomination.

Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, as well as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, said that they supported delaying a floor vote in order to allow the FBI to conduct a weeklong investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee later said it would request that the FBI carry out a "supplemental" background check of Kavanaugh that will take no more than a week from Friday.

The idea was first broached by Flake, who announced the plan during a dramatic standoff ahead of the Judiciary Commitee's 11-10 party line vote on Kavanaugh's nomination Friday afternoon.

"I think that we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important," Flake said. Flake said he supported an investigation that was "limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there."

The Senate is narrowly divided, with Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority. The party needs only 50 votes to secure Kavanaugh's confirmation. That means all eyes will be on four key senators, two Republicans and two Democrats, including Murkowski and Manchin, who have not yet said how they will vote.

Flake's remarks Friday immediately sparked confusion among the lawmakers. As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear what mechanism would be used to bring the FBI into the Kavanaugh probe. Traditionally, the White House, and not the Senate, would be required to instruct the FBI to conduct an investigation.

A cloud of uncertainty loomed large in the committee chamber Friday. As the committee's Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called for a vote in the seconds following Flake's announcement, the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked what exactly the committee was voting on.

Flake's gambit followed the urging of a personal friend and Senate colleague, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who pushed the committee earlier in the day to hold off on voting for a week.

"One week only," Coons said. "Not to spread this out past the next election, not to pursue some partisan goal, but to allow a professional FBI interview with everyone who may have relevant information."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has vocally supported Kavanaugh's nomination, said after the vote Friday that "I think I know what happened." Graham sowed some doubt, however, suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., might not honor the request to delay voting in order for the FBI to conduct an investigation.

"It doesn't matter what we say here," Graham said. "I love this committee but we are not the majority leader."

McConnell met with Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee as well as Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in McConnell's office Friday afternoon to discuss how to proceed.

Following the meeting, Graham suggested to reporters that it still wasn't clear what would happen.

"Someone's got to explain this to Trump, and I guess that's my job," Graham said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. One senior White House official told NBC News Friday that "we found out along with everybody else."

The vote took place a day after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago, gave extraordinary, emotionally charged testimony before the panel.

Ford said she is "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh attacked her. The judge vehemently denies the allegation.

-- CNBC's Dan Mangan , Christina Wilkie , Mike Calia and Anjali Robins contributed to this report.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.