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White House candidate Harris urges new investigation of Kavanaugh, FBI

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By Reuters
White House candidate Harris urges new investigation of Kavanaugh, FBI
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Asociate Justice Brett Kavanaugh is seen at a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington on Feb. 5, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo   -   Copyright  Joshua Roberts(Reuters)

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Kamala Harris on Tuesday urged a House of Representatives panel to investigate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of new allegations of sexual misconduct by the conservative judge when he was a college student in the 1980s.

Harris, one of 20 Democratic presidential candidates, said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that the panel should “hold Mr. Kavanaugh accountable for his prior conduct and testimony.”

Nadler on Monday faulted the FBI’s probe of prior sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh ahead of his narrow confirmation by the Senate in October 2018, saying in a radio interview it “apparently was a sham.” But Nadler said his panel had its “hands full” with investigating Republican President Donald Trump.

Harris is among the Democratic presidential candidates who called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment after the New York Times published an essay over the weekend detailing what it described as a previously unreported incident of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.

Others include former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.

Front-runner Joe Biden, the former vice president, stopped short of advocating impeachment, instead backing a probe of how the FBI handled its investigation.

Warren told reporters on Tuesday that she believed “the only tool available” to investigate Kavanaugh further is an impeachment proceeding. “Right now Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of lying to Congress during his confirmation hearings, and so that means we should have an investigation,” Warren said.

The calls to impeach Kavanaugh have received a lacklustre response from Democratic congressional leadership, most of whom maintain that Democrats should focus on issues and legislation, not impeachments.

Trump and other Republicans likewise rejected pursuing Kavanaugh’s impeachment. Trump encouraged Kavanaugh, whose appointment cemented the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority, to sue for libel, calling the New York Times story a “smear” on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that “the calls by Democratic candidates for president to remove Justice Kavanaugh from the court are a disgrace.”

Harris, in her letter to Nadler, said that “throughout the confirmation process, several Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly called for a fulsome investigation into all of the relevant allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh.”

Along with Harris, White House contenders Booker and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar sit on the chamber’s judiciary panel and participated in Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings. Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate, while Democrats control the House.

The New York Times reported that the FBI had knowledge of the additional allegation but did not investigate it thoroughly, Harris wrote in the letter to Nadler. She encouraged Nadler to examine the agency’s handling of the matter, and also whether Kavanaugh was truthful during his confirmation hearings.

Nadler said on Monday that FBI Director Christopher Wray would face questions about the agency’s investigation into Kavanaugh when Wray appears before the committee next month.

No Supreme Court justice has ever been ousted through the impeachment process outlined in the U.S. Constitution, in which the House initiates proceedings and the Senate then holds a trial on whether to remove an individual from office. The only justice ever impeached in the House was spared by the Senate in 1804.

(Reporting By Amanda Becker in Washington; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Andrea Shalal in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)