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OpinionEditorial

Do FBI probe and delay vote on court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

The frustration Brett Kavanaugh displayed during an extraordinary eight-hour Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on his nomination to the Supreme Court was understandable, but his anger was very unsettling.

He has been accused of sexual misconduct as a teenager by three women, and the allegations lack a wealth of supporting evidence. That may be partly due to the passage of time, as well as to the refusals of Republicans on the committee to slow the process and ask President Donald Trump to order the FBI to reopen its background check of Kavanaugh to provide information that could exonerate or implicate him.

But his emotional and combative performance, including at times a sneering disdain for questions by Democratic senators, especially female ones, displayed a temperament that would be problematic for a Supreme Court justice. And it stood in stark contrast to the dignified and compelling testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the college professor who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh’s aggressive posture was for an audience of one in the White House, and he got applause at the end. Trump tweeted moments after the hearing ended that he stood behind his nominee and demanded a vote. But in complaining vehemently about what he saw as partisan attacks against him, Kavanaugh launched his own partisan attack, saying that opposition to him was revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and that Democrats were conspiring to destroy him. In dropping his earlier facade that he would be a neutral umpire on the court, Kavanaugh reminded us that for much of his professional life he was a partisan political operative.

He had a tough act to follow on Thursday. Ford was credible and emotional, vulnerable and poised, and she connected with women all over the country who heard in her testimony their own experiences and people’s reactions when they tried to tell their stories. Her most powerful moment was her answer to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s question about what she remembered most about the alleged assault. It was the laughter, she said, between Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who she says was in the room where she was allegedly attacked, “and their having fun at my expense.” The wound was palpable.

In turning up the volume to project strength, Kavanaugh came across as a weaker nominee. He repeatedly refused to call for an FBI investigation. He provided at least two implausible explanations for entries in his yearbook.

It would be a travesty if the committee goes ahead with its vote anytime soon. The FBI must be asked to investigate, and the committee must call other witnesses — those who have volunteered to testify and those, like Judge, who have not. Judge, especially, must be questioned.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) noted that the hearing was not a trial of Ford, but rather a job interview of Kavanaugh. She’s right. The hearing did not remove the taint on his nomination, baggage he would carry over to the Supreme Court, unless and until an intense effort is made to resolve these lingering concerns. There simply is no way the Senate can hire Brett Kavanaugh right now. — The editorial board

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