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Kavanaugh pleads guilty with an explanation for Senate hearing tirades

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 27. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Andrew Harnik

Regrets, he's having a few

As the fate of his Supreme Court nomination hangs in the balance, Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday night offered up a sober reflection: He just may have been out of line when he angrily raged and snapped at Democratic senators at last week's Judiciary Committee hearing.

"I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been," Kavanaugh wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said."

That Kavanaugh would write such a piece suggested that he and his White House handlers still see his chances of confirmation as precarious even as Republican leaders proclaimed a short-order FBI investigation put him in the clear on sexual misconduct allegations.

His performance in the hearing led some past supporters in the legal community to turn against him as no longer credible to impartially render justice. "I cannot condone the partisanship — which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial," wrote one, Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of Lawfare blog. Another surprise late opponent spoke up Thursday: former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (more on that below).

Explaining his conduct, Kavanaugh wrote of "his overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused, without corroboration, of horrible conduct completely contrary to my record and character." He recalled his promise when President Donald Trump introduced him to be "a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no political party, litigant or policy."

As Kavanaugh sought to splash cold water on the firestorm, Trump again took out the flamethrower, this time at a rally in Minnesota, where he predicted the "rage-fueled resistance" is failing. He found a new target for mockery — former Sen. Al Franken — who resigned last December under pressure from Democratic colleagues because of past groping incidents.

"Boy did he fold up like a wet rag . . . He was gone so fast," Trump said,

Judgmental days

Less than a week in the making, the FBI's report, being shown to senators in a secure room, didn't bring any sweeping resolution to the questions about him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the report "did not corroborate any of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh" and pressed on for a confirmation vote in the coming days, slamming Democrats for trafficking in "uncorroborated mud."

But Democrats charged Senate GOP and White House restrictions kept the FBI from talking to dozens of witnesses who should have been interviewed, including Kavanaugh's Yale classmates. "What I can say is that the most notable part of this report is what's not in it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Sens. Jeff Flake and Susan Collins — two of the Republicans who won a timeout last week on a vote to allow for the investigation — called it "thorough." Neither declared to be for or against Kavanaugh. A third undecided Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, offered no view about the report and held an emotional private meeting with dozens of women from her home state of Alaska, including sexual assault survivors.

For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

She says no

A previously undecided Democrat, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, announced she will vote no, acknowledging it will lengthen the odds for her re-election in red-state North Dakota.

"If this were a political decision for me I certainly would be deciding the other way," Heitkamp said in an interview on Fargo TV station WDAY. 

In a written statement, she said, “In addition to the concerns about his past conduct, last Thursday’s hearing called into question Judge Kavanaugh’s current temperament, honesty, and impartiality."

Janison: Script flippers

There's a whiff of what the late Yogi Berra called "déjà vu all over again" in the Democratic complaints about the FBI's Kavanaugh inquiry.

It wasn't long ago that Republicans — including the Senate Judiciary Committee's Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham — said the FBI came up short in its investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server. Democrats saw no problem. Trump hasn't stopped complaining.

Also, the Republicans' need for speed on Kavanaugh is a whiplash change from 2016 when they slammed the brakes on Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and never eased up. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

Even Stevens

Former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, a Republican, said he has changed his mind about Kavanaugh and doesn't think he has the proper temperament for the job.

“I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability . . . I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind,” Stevens, 98, told a crowd of retirees in Boca Raton, Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post. Stevens, was nominated by former President Gerald Ford, retired in 2010.

Kavanaugh has been backed by former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retirement in July created the current vacancy. The only woman among retired justices, Sandra Day O'Connor, hasn't weighed in.

He'll take the cake

McConnell's plan to hold a final vote on Saturday faces an extra complication: He can't count on Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, to be there for the roll call.

Daines, who supports Kavanaugh, plans to attend his daughter’s wedding and walk her down the aisle back home in his home state on Saturday no matter what is going on in Washington. McConnell could theoretically hold the vote open until Daines can fly back.

What else is happening:

  • Among the hundreds detained in anti-Kavanaugh protests on Capitol Hill: Amy Schumer, the actress/comedian and distant cousin of Sen. Chuck Schumer, writes Newsday's Ellen Yan.
  • White House political director Bill Stepien is warning GOP candidates that if they try to distance themselves from Trump, they will only be hurting themselves, The Associated Press reports.
  • Republicans in Congress have tentatively agreed to a 1.9% pay raise for the nation’s 2 million civilian federal workers, rebuffing Trump, who sought to freeze their pay, The Washington Post reported.
  • Melania Trump spent Thursday in the southern African nation of Malawi promoting the work of a U.S. international development agency whose funding Trump has tried to slash, The Associated Press reported.
  • Long Island immigrant advocates on Thursday hailed a federal judge’s decision to block the Trump administration from ending protections that allowed immigrants from four countries to live and work legally in the United States, reports Newsday's Bart Jones.
  • A bill requiring the FAA to re-evaluate the North Shore helicopter route in light of noise complaints from North Fork residents passed the Senate and is headed to Trump’s desk, Newsday's Jean-Pau Salamanca reports.

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