All eyes on FBI as it takes 2nd look at Kavanaugh
Tight rein reported on bureau probing accused nominee
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.
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.