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Senators started reviewing the FBI's supplemental background investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday.
President Donald Trump last week ordered the agency to reopen its inquiry into the judge, after a number of undecided senators pressed for further investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Since Friday, the FBI has interviewed nine people about the allegations, a source briefed on the investigation told NBC News.
There has been much debate over the scope of the inquiry, given the narrow parameters originally set by the White House. A particular point of contention has been the decision not to include interviews with Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman to come forward with an allegation against the judge. The FBI also did not interview Kavanaugh. The absence of the two from the latest review has raised alarm among some top Democrats.
Nonetheless, the White House is confident that the inquiry will bolster Kavanaugh's odds. Raj Shah, a deputy White House press secretary detailed to the Kavanaugh confirmation process, told CNN on Thursday that after senators review the FBI material, "they're going to be comfortable confirming Judge Kavanaugh."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed to have a vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation this week. A procedural vote on the nomination is expected Friday. The final confirmation vote could come Saturday.
All eyes are on a handful of senators who have not indicated how they will vote. In particular, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are thought to be crucial. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who led the charge last week to re-open the FBI investigation, will also be closely watched.
The Senate is narrowly divided, with the GOP holding a two-vote majority. If all of the Democrats vote down Kavanaugh's confirmation, two Republicans would still be required to sink him. Vice President Mike Pence would vote in the event of a 50-50 tie.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast numerous swing votes in major rulings.
The FBI interviews have been kept closely guarded. The document is being held in a special facility in the Senate designed to hold classified documents, although the document itself is not marked confidential or classified, a committee aide told NBC News.
Starting at 8 a.m. ET Thursday, Judiciary Commitee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was permitted one hour to review the file. The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, was provided an hour starting at 9 a.m.
Following Feinstein's review, the Judiciary Commitee's other members will be permitted to review the document, starting with the GOP side. The rest of the Senate's 100 members will be granted access afterward.
"Ranking Member Feinstein & I have agreed to alternating EQUAL access for senators to study content from additional background info gathered by non-partisan FBI agents," Grassley wrote in a Twitter post.
Senators are not permitted to disclose the contents of the FBI's investigation. Yet squabbling over previous versions of the judge's background file suggests there could be more disputes to come.
On Wednesday, Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee called on Grassley to correct a tweet posted by the Republican staff. The tweet said that in previous FBI reports on Kavanaugh, there was never "a whiff of ANY issue – at all – related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse."
The Democrats wrote that "while we are limited in what we can say about this background investigation in a public setting, we are compelled to state for the record that there is information in the [tweet] that is not accurate."
The GOP members of the committee then posted a message saying they stood by the claim.