WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. congressional committee responsible for launching any impeachment efforts said on Monday he is focused on investigating President Donald Trump, signaling that calls by some fellow Democrats for impeaching Trump’s Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh would have to take a back seat.
Several Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers have called for impeaching Kavanaugh following a New York Times article published over the weekend detailing what was described as a previously unreported incident of sexual misconduct by the conservative justice when he was a college student in the 1980s.
House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, speaking in a radio interview, faulted the FBI’s probe into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh ahead of the justice’s narrow October 2018 confirmation in the Senate, saying it “apparently was a sham.”
But Nadler said his committee is currently focused on investigating Trump as it explores possible impeachment.
“Personally, I think the president ought to be impeached,” Nadler told WNYC radio.
“We have our hands full with impeaching the president right now and it’s going to take up our limited resources and time for a while,” Nadler added.
He said FBI Director Christopher Wray would face questions about the agency’s probe into Kavanaugh when Wray appears before the committee next month. Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh cemented the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority.
“We’re certainly going to ask about this, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Nadler said.
No Supreme Court justice has ever been ousted from office through the impeachment process set out under 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 in the Senate in 1804.
While Democrats control the House, Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate, making it highly unlikely Kavanaugh would ever be removed.
Nadler said his panel’s jurisdiction over Kavanaugh could center around whether the jurist lied to the Senate during his contentious confirmation hearings last year.
The FBI investigated allegations against Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct dating to the 1980s in a background check and sent a report to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation process. Kavanaugh denied those accusations. Kavanaugh on Monday declined to comment on the latest allegation.
‘ASSAULTED BY LIES’
Trump and other Republicans rejected the calls for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. Trump encouraged Kavanaugh to sue for libel. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed Kavanaugh would not be impeached.
“The one who is actually being assaulted is Justice Kavanaugh – Assaulted by lies and Fake News!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, called the Times story “unsubstantiated” and said the Democratic presidential candidates were “hysterically” calling for impeachment.
The Times reported that a Yale classmate, Max Stier, saw Kavanaugh “with his pants down” at a drunken dormitory party “where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.” The Times said the female student declined to be interviewed and that her friends said she does not recall the incident.
The claim was similar to a previous allegation by Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed his penis to her during a drunken party. Another woman, Christine Blasey Ford, in Senate testimony accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982 when they were high school students.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent House member on the left, joined in the impeachment demands.
“It is unsurprising that Kavanaugh, credibly accused of sexual assault, would lie under oath to secure a Supreme Court seat. Because sexual assault isn’t a crime of passion – it’s about the abuse of power,” she wrote on Twitter.
A second impeachment inquiry could further expose divisions within the Democratic Party. Some moderate Democrats already have told party leaders they fear that a focus on impeaching Trump instead of on issues important to voters such as healthcare could hurt Democratic election prospects in November 2020.
Democrat Chris Coons, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, said he sent a letter to the FBI’s Wray expressing concern that the agency’s Kavanaugh investigation was “very narrow and very limited in its analysis.” Coons told Fox News his letter asked “for more clarity about why they didn’t interview more people.”
Democratic presidential candidates calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment included: former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.
Others, including front-runner Joe Biden, the former vice president, stopped short of advocating impeachment. Instead, they called either for an investigation into the new claim or a review of whether Trump’s administration blocked the FBI from following leads during its Kavanaugh background investigation.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham