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Sen. Jeff Flake explains why he requested the Kavanaugh vote delay

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., address the crowd at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

PHOENIX — Sen. Jeff Flake explained his recent decision to request a one-week FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Flake had originally said he would vote yes to confirm Kavanaugh following his and accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonies Thursday. On Friday, Flake announced he wanted to delay the vote for one week to allow for further investigation.

Flake told The Atlantic on Saturday that he felt “unsettled” in the hours between his original decision and later request.

He credited his longtime relationship with and trust in Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware who made the plea for a one-week extension, as a factor in his decision.

Flake appeared with Coons on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night.

The pair said a disdain for the hostility of party politics as well as people sharing their stories of sexual assault with the senators made them pause to reflect on the confirmation vote.

Flake revealed in the interview that he believes the compromise would not have been possible if he had been running for re-election.

“There’s no value to reaching across the aisle,” Flake said about the current political climate. “There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.”

Flake’s decision reportedly did not go over easily within the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The tension in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room was almost unbearable in the hours and minutes before Sen. Jeff Flake announced his request for the delay.

Republicans gave fiery speeches defending Kavanaugh. Some Democrats walked out of the room, irate that the committee was voting on Kavanaugh less than 24 hours after hearing from Ford. Protesters roamed the halls outside and yelled at senators.

Flake and Coons met privately in a corner, where they worked out the compromise.

The announcement upended Republicans’ plans to move quickly to confirm Kavanaugh and made clear what many had suspected: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not have the votes to proceed to Kavanaugh’s nomination over the weekend. McConnell soon called for the investigation as well, after resisting that step since the allegations became public.

Talking to his colleagues, Flake voiced discomfort with the accusation against Kavanaugh and said he was leaning toward asking for an FBI investigation, according to two people in the room who were not authorized to discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Coons said afterward that Flake’s fellow Republicans tried “vigorously” to get him to drop his concerns. According to one person in the room, Flake tried to reach FBI Director Christopher Wray on the telephone, but ended up talking to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“This country is being ripped apart here,” Flake said at the time. “We’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence.”

Flake’s made-for-TV moment in the hearing room was indicative of how wrenching things had become on Capitol Hill in the 24 hours since Ford publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh, in testimony that alternated between anger and tears, denied ever doing such a thing to Ford or anyone else.

The charged emotions were mirrored by the senators in the room, including Lindsey Graham, who at one point on Thursday delivered an angry diatribe against the “sham process.” Red-faced and pointing his finger as he spoke, Graham, R-S.C., nearly reached the same heights of anger Kavanaugh displayed in his more than 40-minute opening statement.

After Friday’s meeting, Coons said that Flake had approached him, wanting to talk about Coons’ call for a one-week delay on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Flake “asked me to come into the anteroom to talk to him about how that might be made more real,” he said.

Coons said there were some “sharp conversations” as the discussions went on about how partisan the committee had been, and how he and Flake wanted to improve on that.

Coons’ eyes welled with tears as he told reporters afterward about the deep respect that he and Flake share for the Senate as an institution. He said Flake had been a role model to him, “as someone who is willing to take a real political risk, and upset many in his party by asking for a pause so the American people can hear that we are able to work together on some things.”

Flake said he didn’t expect the FBI investigation to change many Democratic votes. “But they will feel better about the process,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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