Moments after pivotal Senator Jeff Flake announced his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican was confronted with the consequences.
- Two women confront Flake in an elevator, expressing concerns about Kavanaugh’s nomination
- One of the women reveals details of her own sexual abuse for the first time
- Flake didn’t confirm whether confrontation affected decision to push for further Kavanaugh investigation
Two women cornered Senator Flake as he got in an elevator on Friday, local time, pleading for him to reconsider his support for the appeals court judge who has been accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford when he was a teenager.
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me,” said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher.
Senator 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 non-profit Centre for Popular Democracy Action, told Senator Flake.
“I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognised 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.”
Ms Archila, 39, appeared to block Senator Flake from closing the elevator door.
Then Ms 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 Senator Flake to look her in the eye.
“Don’t look away from me,” she said.
Senator Flake shifted between looking at the women and looking down.
He said, “Thank you”, but did not respond to questions on whether he believed Dr Ford’s testimony.
The elevator doors closed.
After the confrontation, Ms Gallagher said she did not intend to tell Senator Flake about her assault — she had never told anyone before.
“But I saw him, and I got really angry,” she said.
‘This whole process has affected us all’
Senator Flake and his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee had heard hours of testimony from Dr Ford, a California psychology professor who told them Mr Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago. Mr Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegation.
Senator Flake was viewed as a possible “no” vote, but on Friday he voted to advance Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination from the committee to the full Senate.
But the Capitol confrontation may have made an impact.
After huddling privately with his colleagues, Senator Flake announced he would vote to advance Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge.
Senator 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.”
President Donald Trump later agreed to order the FBI to open a supplemental background investigation into Mr Kavanaugh.