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Sen. James Lankford Weighs In On Kavanaugh Nomination And FBI Investigation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, released a statement last Friday that he was still going to vote yes to confirm Kavanaugh. He's here with us to talk about that decision. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JAMES LANKFORD: Oh, glad to be with you.

CHANG: So why are you resolved to vote yes before this FBI investigation has even been completed?

LANKFORD: Well, obviously I put that statement out before the FBI investigation was even called for at that point, as far as we were definitely going to do it.

CHANG: Does it change your mind?

LANKFORD: It doesn't change my mind because I'm looking to still be able to get facts, but it was the same thing that I stated before. I had the opportunity to be able to sit down with Judge Kavanaugh, be able to ask him a lot of questions about his judicial philosophy. I've had the opportunity to be able to go through decades of history related to him. And then this accusation came in. So the important thing for me to be able to hear was to be able to hear Dr. Ford, to be able to hear Brett Kavanaugh, to be able to get two entirely different perspectives on it. And it is a challenge to be able to piece things together.

Obviously, both of them, exceptionally credible witnesses - both of them come with very, very different stories. But it doesn't come down to a he said, she said. It comes down to a he said, she said, they said. And that's the challenge for me, are the individuals that Dr. Ford had said they were also there, and they can also testify to this. All of them instead came out and said, we don't remember anything like that. So while I don't have any reason to doubt that Dr. Ford had something happen to her, I can't piece together that it was actually Brett Kavanaugh, the one that was actually there.

CHANG: What would the FBI have to find to change your mind about Kavanaugh's fitness to serve on the Supreme Court?

LANKFORD: Well, the FBI's going to go back and do interviews. And this is the hard part about this. The FBI process is interviewing all the same people that the committee staff has already interviewed to be able to come through. So they're going have to find something different than what we have already seen, which I think is very unlikely because the FBI is not doing a full-on criminal investigation, not going through DNA and going through sites.

CHANG: Well, then, if you think it's unlikely that the investigation will turn up anything worthwhile, what's the point of the investigation? Is this just a gesture and - a hollow gesture?

LANKFORD: So the point of the investigation seems to be two things. One is some of my Democratic colleagues have told me their goal at the end of the day is to slow down the nomination all the way through the election to either make it an election issue or to be able to hopefully slow it down long enough that each week, they would say, we need one more week, one more week, one more week to hopefully win the election and to be able to...

CHANG: Are you saying that you wouldn't want to do this investigation because it is slowing things down?

LANKFORD: No. I don't mind an investigation as long as the investigation is fair, that it's timely, that it's not just designed to be able to drag on a week and at the end of it say, well, now we need another week, and now we need another week. The Anita Hill investigation with the FBI at that time was three days.

CHANG: If the investigation is indeed confined to one week, your colleague and fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has said that if the FBI investigation finds that Kavanaugh lied under oath during his hearings, then his nomination is dead. Do you agree with Flake?

LANKFORD: Would absolutely agree.

CHANG: OK.

LANKFORD: Because then the issue is twofold. It's not only sexual assault as an issue, but it's lying to Congress and lying under oath. Clearly that would be disqualifying.

CHANG: Even if it's found that Kavanaugh lied about, say, his drinking habits, you think that would be disqualifying as well.

LANKFORD: So that has been a whole new issue that I've been fascinated with, that people have said, OK, if we can - now that we have them on record for new things, let's try to find new things that maybe we can say, not necessarily lying about, but we have different interpretations. If one people - if one person says, yes, subjectively, I think you drink too much, and he says subjectively, no, I don't think I was drinking too much, then that's enough for lying and enough to exclude him.

That's no longer a dialogue about sexual assault. That's trying to find some way to trip up a nominee, to be able to catch them on something based on some kind of history from 36 years ago. That - that's no longer really trying to be able to get to a judge. That's trying to be able to destroy someone personally. I am offended by that, and I think most people should be. Quite frankly, many of my Democrat colleagues have said to me quietly, I really hope that they don't reopen my time when I was in high school the way that we're opening up the time on Brett Kavanaugh when he's in high school and try to challenge everything.

CHANG: You don't think it's fair to say that it would be disqualifying if Brett Kavanaugh was mischaracterizing his drinking habits as a teenager.

LANKFORD: So drinking habits as a teenager, and someone saying he drank too much, and the other one saying he didn't drink too much becomes a subjective issue. A sexual assault is very clear.

CHANG: Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, thank you very much for joining us today.

LANKFORD: You bet. Glad to be able to visit with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.