All eyes on FBI as it takes 2nd look at Ka­vanaugh

Tight rein re­ported on bureau prob­ing ac­cused nom­i­nee

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Shane Har­ris, Matt Za­po­to­sky, Tom Ham­burger and Se­ung Min Kim

WASH­ING­TON — The FBI has again been thrust to the cen­ter of the day’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy af­ter Pres­i­dent Don ald Trump and Repub­li­can Se­nate lead­ers agreed to al­low the bureau to con­duct an ad­di­tional back­ground check of Brett Ka­vanaugh, whose nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court hangs in the bal­ance over al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

The probe is con­sid­ered a part of Ka­vanaugh’s back­ground check be­cause the al­le­ga­tions are from Ka­vanaugh’s teenage years and the ac­tiv­ity does not in­volve any fed­eral crimes, of­fi­cials said.

That is im­por­tant be­cause, un­like in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ad­di­tional work had to be re­quested by the White House, which is al­lowed to im­pose pa­ram­e­ters on the scope, of­fi­cials said.

In fact, strict lim­its have re­port­edly been put on the agency’s reach in the one week it has to com­plete its work.

The FBI is fol­low­ing up on al­le­ga­tions by Chris­tine Blasey Ford, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Palo Alto Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia, who tes­ti­fied to the Se­nate last week that Ka­vanaugh sex­u­ally as­saulted her in the early 1980s when they were in high school in sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Ford re­counted in de­tail how Ka­vanaugh and his friend Mark Judge al­legedly at­tacked her in a bed­room dur­ing a small gath­er­ing at a house when the teen boys were both drunk.

Af­ter Ford’s tes­ti­mony, Ka­vanaugh vig­or­ously de­nied the al­le­ga­tions be­fore the com­mit­tee and ac­cused Democrats of launch­ing a last-minute at­tempt to de­rail his nom­i­na­tion.

He de­cried the con­fir­ma­tion process as a “cir­cus.”

Ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the un­fold­ing

in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the FBI has also be­gun con­tact­ing other peo­ple, in­clud­ing a sec­ond woman who al­leges that the Supreme Court nom­i­nee sex­u­ally as­saulted her.

The bureau has reached out to Deb­o­rah Ramirez, a Yale Univer­sity class­mate of Ka­vanaugh’s who al­leges that he shoved his gen­i­tals in her face at a party where she had been drink­ing and be­came dis­ori­ented, her at­tor­ney said Satur­day.

“She has agreed to co­op­er­ate with their in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Ramirez at­tor­ney John Clune said in a state­ment. “Out of re­spect for the in­tegrity of the process, we will have no fur­ther com­ment at this time.”

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports Satur­day, how­ever, the White House is not per­mit­ting the FBI to pur­sue the al­le­ga­tion of a third ac­cuser, Julie Swet­nick, who said Ka­vanaugh was present at a party where she was gang-raped when they were teenagers.

Swet­nick’s at­tor­ney, Michael Ave­natti, com­plained on Twit­ter that Trump was usurp­ing the FBI’s role and that he and Ka­vanaugh “are afraid of the truth.”

Also, the agency re­port­edly can­not seek em­ploy­ment records from a Safe­way su­per­mar­ket in sub­ur­ban Mary­land for Judge, Ka­vanaugh’s friend whom Ford says wit­nessed and helped in as­sault­ing her.

Ford told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day that such records could pro­vide ev­i­dence to cor­rob­o­rate her ac­count, help­ing to es­tab­lish the time pe­riod.

A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, de­clined to con­firm that the FBI was work­ing un­der such re­stric­tions, and said the Se­nate was set­ting the pa­ram­e­ters of the in­quiry.

De­spite his ap­par­ent be­hind-the-scene di­rec­tives to the FBI to limit the in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s scope, the pres­i­dent sug­gested the op­po­site in his com­ments to re­porters Satur­day.

“They have free rein; they can do what­ever they have to do, what­ever it is that they do,” Trump told re­porters as he left the White House for a cam­paign rally in West Vir­ginia.

“Hope­fully at the con­clu­sion ev­ery­thing will be fine,” he said.

When he got to West Vir­ginia, how­ever, Trump turned Ka­vanaugh into a pitch for Repub­li­cans to vote in Novem­ber, telling the crowd at a rally there that they can help re­ject the “ruth­less and out­ra­geous tac­tics” he said Democrats used against the judge for what he called their de­ter­mi­na­tion “to take back power by any means nec­es­sary.”

From the probe of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server to the ex­am­i­na­tion of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the FBI has grown ac­cus­tomed in re­cent months to con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions that are viewed through sharply par­ti­san lenses.

The case of Ka­vanaugh, though, presents sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges.

The al­le­ga­tions against the Supreme Court nom­i­nee are decades old, and his ac­cusers say their mem­o­ries — some­times of dates and lo­ca­tions — are hazy. A back­ground check is not like a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion; in­ves­ti­ga­tors would not use tools such as grand ju­ries, sub­poe­nas and search war­rants, mean­ing po­ten­tial wit­nesses could sim­ply de­cline to be in­ter­viewed.

The FBI will ul­ti­mately re­port its find­ings — which, in Ka­vanaugh’s case, will prob­a­bly be mostly re­ports of in­ter­views — to the White House. The bureau will not con­clude whether the ac­cusers are be­liev­able or not, or tell the White House whether it should with­draw Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion.

The FBI’s find­ings will not nec­es­sar­ily be­come pub­lic. When in­ves­ti­ga­tors have com­pleted their work, any­thing they’ve dis­cov­ered will be turned over to the White House as an up­date to Ka­vanaugh’s back­ground check file. The White House would then likely share the ma­te­rial with the Se­nate com­mit­tee.

At that point, all sen­a­tors, as well as a very small group of aides, would have ac­cess to it.

“They’re not go­ing to crack the case,” said Ron Hosko, a for­mer as­sis­tant FBI di­rec­tor. “The best they can hope to do is find the facts, re­lay the state­ments of the wit­nesses that pre­sum­ably would be later tested if Congress chose to do so and the pres­i­dent green­lighted it.”

That is not to say an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion will not yield new in­for­ma­tion. Wit­nesses who have pro­vided only brief state­ments to Congress might be more will­ing to co­op­er­ate with law en­force­ment.

Judge and oth­ers will have a strong in­cen­tive to tell the truth. Ly­ing to the FBI, af­ter all, is a fed­eral crime.

Once the White House gives Congress the FBI’s re­port, law­mak­ers might de­cide to hold a hear­ing or change their vote. If in­ves­ti­ga­tors un­cover ev­i­dence that Ka­vanaugh lied to law­mak­ers dur­ing hear­ings or on his back­ground-check forms, that could spark a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in which law en­force­ment could use the full ex­tent of its le­gal pow­ers.

Sen. Bernie San­ders, for his part, wants the FBI to ex­am­ine whether Ka­vanugh told the truth when he tes­ti­fied be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

The in­de­pen­dent Ver­mont se­na­tor sent a let­ter Satur­day to Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, the panel’s chair­man, call­ing on in­ves­ti­ga­tors to look at state­ments he made while un­der oath.

“The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion the FBI can help an­swer is whether Judge Ka­vanaugh has been truth­ful with the com­mit­tee,” San­ders wrote. “This goes to the very heart of whether he should be con­firmed to the court.”

One of the ap­peals court judge’s state­ments was bla­tantly false. He claimed that his beer con­sump­tion in high school, when the al­leged at­tack oc­curred, was le­gal be­cause the drink­ing age in Mary­land was 18. By the time he was 18, the drink­ing age had been changed to 21.

San­ders also wrote that the probe should not be lim­ited to a week — and called for it to in­clude ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct made against Ka­vanaugh by other women aside from Ford.

Ka­vanaugh has said that he never abused or as­saulted any­one.

SAUL LOEB/GETTY-AFP

The FBI is fol­low­ing up on al­le­ga­tions by Chris­tine Blasey Ford, top, in a probe con­sid­ered part of Brett Ka­vanaugh’s back­ground check be­cause the claims are from his teen years.

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