WASHINGTON — Lawyers for two women who accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct say they fear the FBI is not conducting a thorough investigation, as Republican leaders steer toward a decisive vote on the nomination this week.
Attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford, who says she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at a party when they were teenagers, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking why the FBI hasn't contacted their client after she offered to cooperate in the FBI's reopened background investigation of Kavanaugh.
Also Tuesday, an attorney for another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, said he's seen no indication that the FBI has reached out to any of the 20 people who Ramirez told them may be able to corroborate her account that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were Yale freshmen. The attorney, John Clune, said Ramirez was interviewed by the FBI on Sunday and provided agents with the witnesses' contact numbers.
Clune said he is concerned that the bureau "is not conducting — or not being permitted to conduct — a serious investigation."
Demonstrating that the investigation is credible is crucial as the White House and Senate Republican leadership look to win the support of several wavering senators — including three Republicans — who will determine whether the 53-year-old conservative judge is confirmed to the lifetime post.
One Republican official said he'd been told it was possible the FBI investigation could be completed as soon as Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, but it remained unclear. The official revealed the private conversations only on condition of anonymity.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that "I can tell you with certainty" that the FBI report will be finished and the Senate will vote this week, though he didn't specify when. Underscoring the GOP effort to vote on Kavanaugh quickly — and stuff a cork on the chances for fresh allegations to emerge — he said "it shouldn't take long" for lawmakers to read that report.
"That will not be used as another reason for delay, I can tell you that," he said. Because of procedural steps, a final confirmation vote was unlikely until late in the week, perhaps over the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he wants senators to receive an FBI briefing on its findings at least 24 hours before the chamber takes its first procedural vote on Kavanaugh, which could be midweek.
McConnell has denounced Democrats, who have questioned Kavanaugh's truthfulness and temperament, for hurling "mud and muck" at the judge.
Meanwhile, in a letter Tuesday night, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Ford to turn over more information to support her claim and accused her lawyers of "withholding material evidence." Sen. Chuck Grassley repeated his request for notes from Ford's therapy sessions, details of her communications with The Washington Post and any recordings of her taking a lie detector test.
Also, a comment by President Donald Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh, spotlighted the gulf between #MeToo-era voters who've rallied against sexual abuse and conservatives who say the nominee is entitled to a presumption of innocence against uncorroborated allegations.
"It's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of," Trump said at the White House.
When Trump ordered the FBI investigation last week under pressure from a handful of Senate Republicans, he set a deadline of this Friday for the probe's completion.
Details were scant about precisely who the FBI was interviewing and the scope of the probe, but agents are known to have interviewed at least four people.
They include Mark Judge, who Ford has said was in the bedroom where, she says, a drunken Kavanaugh sexually attacked her at a 1982 high school gathering. Also interviewed were two other people Ford said were present but in a different room: Patrick "P.J." Smyth and Leland Keyser. Judge, Smyth and Keyser say they don't recall the incident described by Ford.
Kavanaugh has denied the accusations by Ford and Ramirez and those by a third woman, Julie Swetnick, who has alleged she was victimized at a party attended by Kavanaugh friends.
McConnell singled out Swetnick's accusations, for which he said "there conveniently happened to be zero witnesses." She is represented by Michael Avenatti, who McConnell called a "tabloid lawyer." Avenatti also represents adult film actress Stormy Daniels in her claim that Trump paid her for silence about an alleged 2006 affair.
One undeclared senator, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., expressed concerns about Kavanaugh's "sharp and partisan" responses to Democratic senators during last week's gripping confirmation hearing at which the nominee and Ford gave opposing accounts. A fuming Kavanaugh sparred frequently with Democrats, responding to a question by one about whether he'd ever blacked out while drinking by shooting back, "Have you?"
Two other undeclared senators, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said they are satisfied with the scope and pace of the FBI investigation. But asked about McConnell's pledge to move forward with a vote this week, Murkowski told The Associated Press that McConnell "talked about a vote last week, too."
SIOUX CITY -- More than a dozen Bishop Heelan High School art students spent Tuesday outdoors, painting a large mural welcoming visitors to Sioux City.
A concrete wall near the intersection of Wesley Parkway and Third Street provided the canvas for the 11-by-9 mural, which highlights the city's high schools, sports teams and some of the most recognizable local icons.
Leadership Siouxland, a leadership training program, requested the mural, created under the guidance of Heelan art teacher Laurie Dougherty.
Dougherty, who has worked 34 years at the Catholic school, has directed students in numerous community mural projects over the years.
The "Welcome to Sioux City'' mural at Wesley Parkway and Third Street, near the base of Prospect Hill, was designed as an old-fashioned postcard. Icons were drawn inside the letters of the words.
"It kind of has a nostalgic look to it," he said.
The green background is a silhouette of the state of Iowa, with a red heart designates Sioux City's location on the map.
The word "Welcome,'' was painted in yellow. Inside each letter of the words, "Sioux" are images of icons that include the Sergeant Floyd riverboat museum, City Hall, the Orpheum Theatre, the Grandview Park bandshell and the War Eagle statute.
Inside each letter of the word "City" are mascots for the four city high schools -- a crusader for Heelan, a paw for West, a raider for the East and a star for North.
The mural also depicts logos for the Sioux City Bandits, Sioux City Explorers and Sioux City Musketeers.
Dougherty said the project started with all 86 art students at Heelan submitting ideas for each letter. "They then selected what they liked best," she said.
The 15 students in her Art III and Art IV students spent Tuesday painting the mural. Despite overcast weather and a threat of rain, they were expected to complete the mural by day's end.
"I'm really proud of them," she said. "They were very willing to share their talents. They designed and executed the whole thing."
Throughout the day, the students received encouragement from scores of pedestrians and motorists. One well wisher even dropped off a box of donuts.
"People would come by and yell, "Good job kids,' '' she said. "It's really been a fun day for us."
SIOUX CITY -- It is shorter than in recent years, but early voting is about to begin in Iowa.
Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill, the top county elections official, on Tuesday pointed to the start of the early voting process on October 8. That is the first day absentee ballots can be mailed or voted in the auditor’s office for domestic voters.
Gill spoke to the Journal outside a planned afternoon press conference, and said Woodbury County will send out a notification mailing on October 9 letting people know about the voting timeline. That mailing includes a form to request an early ballot, which people can return if they want to undertake that step.
October 22 is the so-called worry-free postmark date, the day by which mailed voter registration forms which are postmarked are considered on time to be pre-registered for the election, even if they are received after pre-registration deadline.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is 5 p.m. October 27, while the deadline to request and vote an absentee ballot in person at the auditor’s office is November 5.
Gill said Woodbury County residents over the last decade have shown they like the early voting option in advance of Election Day, which this year is November 6. He said 2,000 people have already requested an early ballot.
"About half the people vote early. I want more people to do it, because it lessens the odds" of an Election Day snafu, Gill said.
A divided Iowa Supreme Court in August halted some provisions of the state’s new identity verification requirements for voters casting absentee ballots, but let stand a 2017 change that reduced the number of days allowed for early voting from 40 to 29 for the November general election.
Gill said people in recent years got used to the calendar of voting 40 days out, so this year have questioned the change.
He also said there was a problem with voting materials recently sent out in Linn County, so people should take a moment to be certain the materials they are completing are accurate.
Early voting began in South Dakota on September 21, and will begin in Nebraska in October 7.
SIOUX CITY -- As the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors consider giving $150,000 toward a Sioux City riverfront redevelopment project, the likelihood of a large, multi-million dollar Ferris wheel being the major drawing piece has dwindled.
The entire project has an estimated cost of $14.5 million, and the exact selection of the redevelopment pieces will determine the ultimate price tag. The county supervisors were asked by a city of Sioux City official during the Tuesday board meeting to provide $150,000 to the endeavor.
The supervisors said they could make a decision in January, when talks on the 2019-20 fiscal year budget begin.
“I would like to see us take part. The amount is what we would talk about in January,” Supervisor Marty Pottebaum said.
Similarly to when the county provided $50,000 to the city project for Cone Park in Sioux City, a county contribution to the riverfront project could help the city "leverage" a state grant, Sioux City Parks and Recreation Director Matt Salvatore said.
"We will apply for an Enhance Iowa or Community Attraction and Tourism grant through the state of Iowa. The grant requires city, county and private funding. Woodbury County's $50,000 contribution to the Cone Park project helped us secure a $300,000 CAT grant in 2015," Salvatore wrote in a memo to the county.
Among the options unveiled in a Sioux City Council meeting in April was the possibility of a big ticket item – such as a Ferris wheel with a possible cost of $2.7 million -- designed to make the riverfront a destination. A piece like that would need to come from private donations and grants, rather than taxpayer dollars, Salavtore previously said.
Salvatore on Tuesday said the committee working on the project now sees a “lighted water feature” as the most likely “iconic” piece.
“We think the Ferris wheel is more on the back burner at this point,” he said.
The city and the Riverfront Steering Committee are looking to rework the ground along the Missouri River where the Argosy Casino-Sioux City was located for two decades until a new casino, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened in August 2014.
Salvatore said it is imperative that the riverfront area is remade in a more pleasing way on 15 acres roughly from Virginia Street to Floyd Boulevard, since it “is the front door to our community.”
Salvatore said the city has $6.5 million tentatively directed to the riverfront redevelopment.
He said the $150,000 from the county could be given over one or more subsequent fiscal years, such as 2019-20 or 2020-21. The goal is to break ground in spring 2020, after an 11-year Interstate 29 major reconstruction finishes in 2019.
Other amenities include open green spaces, shelters, overlooks and other interactive features. SmithGroup JJR presented its schematic design proposal to the city.
Supervisor Jeremy Taylor asked if the county money could be spread over four years. Salvatore said two years is preferable, to meet grant parameters. He said the city plans to apply for a state grant of $500,000 to $600,000 by the deadline of February 15, 2019.
The supervisors indicated they would likely have an answer to meet that application deadline.
Supervisor Keith Radig said it will be important to determine if the project has benefit to a wide variety of taxpayers in the county, not just Sioux City. Taylor said he roughly supports county participation in the project at a level to be determined.