In an interview Friday night, Flake told me about why he changed his mind on the Kavanaugh vote, what it was like to be confronted by sexual-assault survivors on Capitol Hill, and what he hopes to learn from the FBI investigation in the coming week.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
McKay Coppins: As of Friday morning, you were planning to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. By the afternoon, you were calling for an FBI investigation before you could support his confirmation. What happened in those few hours that changed your mind?
Jeff Flake: I don’t know if there was any one thing, but I was just unsettled. You know, when I got back to the committee, I saw the food fight again between the parties—the Democrats saying they’re going to walk out, the Republicans blaming everything on the Democrats.
And then there was [Democratic Senator] Chris Coons making an impassioned plea for a one-week extension to have an FBI investigation. And you know, if it was anybody else I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously. But I know Chris. We’ve traveled together a lot. We’ve sat down with Robert Mugabe. We’ve been chased by elephants, literally, in Mozambique. We trust each other. And I thought, if we could actually get something like what he was asking for—an investigation limited in time, limited in scope—we could maybe bring a little unity.
We can’t just have the committee acting like this. The majority and minority parties and their staffs just don’t work well together. There’s no trust. In the investigation, they can’t issue subpoenas like they should. It’s just falling apart.
Coppins: So, you were motivated mainly by preserving institutional credibility?
Flake: Two institutions, really. One, the Supreme Court is the lone institution where most Americans still have some faith. And then the U.S. Senate as an institution—we’re coming apart at the seams. There’s no currency, no market for reaching across the aisle. It just makes it so difficult.
Just these last couple of days—the hearing itself, the aftermath of the hearing, watching pundits talk about it on cable TV, seeing the protesters outside, encountering them in the hall. I told Chris, “Our country’s coming apart on this—and it can’t.” And he felt the same.
Coppins: Heading into Friday, what factors were you weighing as you decided how to vote?
Flake: It was a sleepless night. I was getting calls and emails for days from friends and acquaintances saying, “Here’s my story, here’s why I was emboldened to come out.” Dr. Ford’s testimony struck a chord, it really did, with a lot of women.
Coppins: What was it like hearing from some of those women?
Flake: I didn’t expect it. I mean, we’re getting women writing into the office. People we don’t know. Other offices, I’m told, are having the same experience.
Coppins: The footage of sexual-assault survivors confronting you in the elevator Friday has been widely viewed. What was going through your mind when they were talking to you?