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Trump agrees to FBI probe of Kavanaugh, bows to Flake, Dems

WASHINGTON — Reversing course, President Donald Trump bowed to Democrats' demands Friday for a deeper FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake balked at voting for confirmation without it — a sudden turn that left Senate approval newly uncertain amid allegations of sexual assault.

Kavanaugh's nomination had appeared back on track earlier Friday when he cleared a key hurdle at the Senate Judiciary Committee. But that advance came with an asterisk. Flake indicated he would take the next steps — leading to full Senate approval — only after the further background probe, and there were suggestions that other moderate Republicans might join his revolt.

The abrupt developments gave senators, the White House and millions of Americans following the drama at home hardly a chance to catch their breath after Thursday's emotional Senate hearing featuring Kavanaugh angrily defending himself and accuser Christine Blasey Ford determinedly insisting he assaulted her when they were teens.

Emotions were still running high Friday, and protesters confronted senators in the halls.

"The country is being ripped apart here," said Flake.

After he took his stance, Republican leaders had little choice but to slow their rush to confirm Kavanaugh, whom they had hoped to have in place shortly after the new court term begins on Monday.

Trump quietly followed suit, though he had vigorously resisted asking the FBI to probe the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, now being raised by three women. One day earlier, he had blistered the Senate process as "a total sham," accused Democrats of a conspiracy of obstruction and declared on Twitter, "The Senate must vote!"

The new timeline puts Trump's nominee in further peril and pushes the politically risky vote for senators closer to the November congressional elections. It also means that any cases the Supreme Court hears before a ninth justice is in place will be decided by just eight, raising the possibility of tie votes.

It was clear Republicans were still short of votes for final Senate approval after Thursday's hearing. They convened late into the evening in a room in the Capitol with various senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, raising pointed questions, according to those familiar with the private meeting but granted anonymity to discuss it.

Republican leaders said — and Trump ordered — that the new probe be "limited in scope." But there was no specific direction as to what that might include. Two other women besides Ford have also lodged public sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. Judge has said he does not recall any such incident. In a new letter to the Senate panel, he said he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency assigned to investigate "confidentially."

Kavanaugh issued his own statement through the White House saying he's been interviewed by the FBI before, done "background" calls with the Senate and answered questions under oath "about every topic" senators have asked.

"I've done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate," said the 53-year-old judge.

Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of Friday's uncertainty. In the morning, he announced he would support Kavanaugh's nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, said they were sexual assault victims and implored him to change his mind.

"Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me," said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher, a volunteer with a liberal advocacy group.

The confrontation was captured by television cameras.

Soon he was working on a new deal with his Republican colleagues and Democrats in a Judiciary Committee anteroom.

Flake announced he would vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate. Democrats have been calling for such a probe, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it was unnecessary. The committee vote was 11-10 along party lines.

Attention quickly turned to a handful of undeclared senators.

Two other key Republicans, Collins and Murkowski, said they backed the plan after they and other GOP senators met for an hour in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said he supported Flake's call for a further probe "so that our country can have confidence in the outcome of this vote."

With a 51-49 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error on a final vote, especially given the fact that several Democrats facing tough re-election prospects this fall announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Friday. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana all said they would vote no.

Flake's vote on final approval is not assured either.

The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. It compiles information about the nominee's past and provides its findings to the White House, which passes them along to the committee.

Trees planting is prime fall activity in Siouxland

SIOUX CITY -- As many Siouxland residents prep to deal with raking, blowing and hauling away leaves, others in the area are busy with the tasks that ultimately result in leaves in the first place.

Fall is also one of the best times recommended for planting trees.

Robert Sopher has been selling and planting trees for the Earl May Nursery & Garden Center in Sioux City for five years. He said lots of people recognize fall as a good time to plant, since conditions are ideal.

"We'll be planting trees up until the end of October, until the ground freezes," Sopher said.

Getting a new tree growing is best in either fall or spring. Planting in the fall from mid-August to mid-October in the Midwest makes for a hardier tree by the following spring, several online nurseries have cited.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources official Evan Miller said, "Fall is a great time to plant new trees. Warm fall days and cool nights are perfect for tree establishment and root growth."

Earl May has encouraged people to plant in the fall for several years with a program that provides free planting by store employees of trees priced at $149 or more. That service is available within a certain radius of Sioux City.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Robert Sopher spreads dirt around an ornamental tree he planted at Calvary Episcopal Church in Sioux City. He is an employee of Earl May Nursery & Garden Center's Gordon Drive location.

MidAmerican Energy Company has a program to encourage people to plant trees, and is bringing the Plant Some Shade event to Sioux City on Oct. 18. That is one of four October stops in Iowa, and trees bought at a reduced price can be picked up that day. The options are landscape-sized shade, ornamental and conifer trees.

Residential customers of MidAmerican Energy can purchase up to two trees with a value of $65 for the lower price of $30 on a first-come, first-served basis.  MidAmerican Energy is working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on the program.

MidAmerican pushes the trees, since having many on a property serves as a great windbreak, particularly to shield homes in winter and reduce energy costs.

Two new trees were planted this week at Calvary Episcopal Church, 1308 S. Cleveland St., in Sioux City. Priest in Charge Stacey Gerhart said a large tree that extended over the church facility was taken down in the summer, and the fall was picked as a good time for the planting work.

Gerhart has noticed the city of Sioux City crews have been planting some trees along finished street projects.

"We were aware that if we planted in the fall that the roots would get established and be better in the spring," she said.

Gerhart said congregation members determined pear trees were the right choice. Gerhart said pear trees won't grow up over the church roof and cause problems, and the roots go straight down, rather than spreading under nearby walkways.

"They grow so quickly and will be beautiful," she said.

Having good-looking Calvary Episcpoal Church grounds with trees is important, Gerhart said.

"It is an important part of our faith, to take care of the environment...I am a big proponent of creation stewardship. We've got to take care of our world," she said.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Newell-Fonda's Alex Spangler pulls down Ar-We-Va's Keegan Simons during action on Friday.

Women confront Flake on Kavanaugh support

WASHINGTON — Moments after pivotal Sen. Jeff Flake announced his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican was confronted with the consequences.

Two women cornered Flake as he got on an elevator Friday, pleading for him to reconsider his support for the appeals court judge who's been accused of sexual assault when he was a teenager. The raw, emotional moment was caught on television, capturing the charged atmosphere in the Capitol as a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court hangs in the balance.

"Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me," said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher.

Flake and his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee had heard hours of testimony Thursday from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who told them Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago. Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegation.

Flake had lobbied Republican leaders to give Ford the chance to speak. He was viewed as a possible "no" vote, until the Friday announcement.

But the Capitol confrontation may have made an impact. Flake, at a committee hearing Friday afternoon, asked for a week delay in the Senate's consideration of Kavanaugh so the FBI to investigate.

Gallagher said in a tweet that she felt relieved that Flake seemed to have heard her. "We absolutely need an FBI investigation for him and all Senators to vote NO," she tweeted.

Flake was later asked whether the elevator confrontation swayed him.

"I can say this whole process has affected all of us," he said. "I can't pinpoint anything to say this is what caused me to come today to say let's postpone."

He said it was "remarkable" the number of people who saw Ford and "were emboldened to come out and say what had happened to them. I've heard from close friends and I had no idea. That's important."

Flake was on his way to the morning hearing when the two women, both affiliated with advocacy groups, told him they were sexual assault survivors.

"On Monday, I stood in front of your office," Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy Action, told Flake. "I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford's story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court."

Archila, 39, appeared to block Flake from closing the elevator door.

Then Gallagher said: "I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn't tell anyone, and you're telling all women that they don't matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them."

"That's what happened to me, and that's what you are telling all women in America, that they don't matter," she said through tears.

She begged Flake to look her in the eye. "Don't look away from me," she said.

Flake, cornered in the elevator, shifted between looking at them and looking down. He said, "Thank you," but didn't response to questions on whether he believed Ford's testimony.

When a reporter asked whether he wanted to respond to the women's questions, he said no.

"I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement. I'll be saying more as well," he said.

The elevator doors closed.

Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh's nomination from the committee to the full Senate, but announced he wanted to delay a confirmation vote a week in order to let the FBI investigate.

He said he had been speaking with Democrats "to making sure that we do due diligence here."

President Donald Trump later agreed to order the FBI to open a supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh that would be completed in a week.

The women do not identify themselves in the video, but Archila's group sent a press release following the confrontation confirming it was Archila speaking on camera. Gallagher confirmed via phone to The Associated Press that it was her, and she consented to the use of her name.

The AP does not usually name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly about the allegations, as these women have done.

Speaking to the AP by phone after the confrontation, Gallagher said she didn't intend to tell Flake about her assault — she had never told anyone before. "But I saw him, and I got really angry," she said.

She was in town as a volunteer with the liberal activist group Make the Road New York. She said she was on her way to talk with her family, because she worried they were seeing what happened to her in the news.

Archila told the AP that she was sexually assaulted when she was 5 years old by a teenager when she and her family lived in Colombia. She said she didn't tell anyone before this week.

"I had planned to just talk to him nicely, but once when I saw that he was voting for Kavanaugh my niceties went out the window," she said. "What are you doing to our country? You are sending the wrong message you're saying that all of us who put our pain to the world to confront don't matter."

After hearing about Flake's request, she said the sequence of events suggested their conversation helped move him.

"What it tells me is that telling our stories and showing up can actually change their minds," she said.