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Jeff Flake sheds more light on the elevator moment and his Kavanaugh decision on ‘60 Minutes’

Scott Pelley interviewed US senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons.
Scott Pelley interviewed US senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons.(Chris Albert/CBS News)

On the eve of his Boston visit, US Senator Jeff Flake shed some more light on how he was approached by protestors in an elevator last week and why he decided to ask for a one-week FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on CBS Sunday night.

The Arizona Republican requested the FBI investigation last Friday as a condition for his own subsequent vote to advance Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after the nominee was accused of sexual assault and misconduct. The announcement added drama and suspense to Friday’s vote, and upended the GOP’s plans to move quickly to confirm Kavanaugh. Flake’s announcement also came after he was confronted in an elevator by two women — one of who is a Northeastern University graduate — who said they survived sexual assaults.

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Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware sat down for an interview with Scott Pelley to chat more about how the decision unfolded.

Flake said that nobody — including himself — expected the scene that played out on Friday to happen.

“I just knew that we couldn’t move forward, that I couldn’t move forward without hitting the pause button,” Flake said. He added that the elevator incident and the way the hearings unfolded before the judiciary committee on Thursday led him to believe that the whole ordeal was “ripping our country apart.”

When Pelley asked for more details on what happened in the elevator, Flake smiled and let out a soft chuckle before responding, “People felt very strongly about the hearings and what was going on.” Flake also said that the women who confronted him “were clearly passionate and determined that I hear them.”

At the same time, Coons said he lobbied Flake to ask for a one-week pause so the FBI could investigate further.

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“I was, principally, concerned about helping my friend listen to his doubts and his conscience,” Coons said, adding that he was “hugely distraught” when he heard Flake was going to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Friday, Flake could be seen getting up from his seat, weaving behind other Republican senators, and crossing onto the Democratic side before signaling to Coons that he wanted to speak with him. The two stepped into an anteroom that Coons described the size of a “phone booth.”

“I followed Jeff into the anteroom and he said very intently, ‘This is tearing our country apart. We have to do something,’” Coons told Pelley.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am,” Coons said of his Republican colleague’s actions afterwards, calling Flake a “hero.”

When asked about Kavanaugh’s forceful denials of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations, Flake said he could understand Kavanaugh’s emotions, but noticed the hearings also “seemed partisan.”

Coons, for his part, said Kavanaugh’s interactions with some of the Democratic senators “went over a line,” calling the Supreme Court nominee “clearly belligerent — aggressive, angry.”

Flake also told Pelley that if he was running for re-election, there was “not a chance” he could have gone out on a limb like he did. (Flake announced in October 2017 that he would not run again, slamming Trumpian politics as he did so.)

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“There’s no value to reaching across the aisle,” Flake told Pelley. “There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.”

The interview aired less than 24 hours before Flake was set to appear at Boston’s City Hall Plaza and in Manchester, N.H., on Monday. Hundreds of protesters are gearing up for each event, organizers said Sunday.