After Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) qualified his ‘yes’ vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation by insisting on an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault against the nominee, the White House was forced to acquiesce.
But the exact scope of the investigation remains unclear, with conflicting reports over who is calling the shots and which witnesses will be interviewed, leading to the conclusion that President Donald Trump is more interested in ensuring no new damning information comes out rather than executing a full and thorough investigation.
Greg Sargent notes in The Washington Post that the White House seems to be “playing all kinds of crafty rhetorical games to obscure” whether or not it has limited the FBI investigation or not.
> As of this morning, there are conflicting reports about who will now be interviewed by the FBI. The New York Times reports that the White House directed the FBI to interview only four people: Mark Judge, who is alleged by Christine Blasey Ford to have acted as Kavanaugh’s accomplice in the sexual assault; P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, who Ford claims were also in the house; and Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at Yale.
> Meanwhile, The Post reports that Kavanaugh will also be interviewed, but that a third accuser — Julie Swetnick — will not be. It’s also not clear whether Ford herself will be contacted — she has not yet been, according to her lawyer.
But asked for clarification, White House officials have only muddied the water:
> Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News that the White House is “not micromanaging this process.” Similarly, counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that, while the investigation will be “limited in scope,” the White House is not setting those limits, which will be “up to the FBI” to set. Conway pointed to President Trump’s weekend tweet saying the FBI should “interview whoever they deem appropriate,” and insisted (somehow without dissolving into giggles at her own disingenuousness) that Trump respects the FBI’s “independence.”
Still, both Sanders and Conway have insisted that any limits to the scope of the investigation are being dictated by Republican senators, not the White House.
> But the White House has not released the precise directive it gave to the FBI, so we cannot know whether the White House is actively imposing those same limits on those senators’ behalf. CNN reports that the White House and GOP senators together developed those limits with the aim of making them “as narrow as possible.”
Former FBI officials who spoke with Sargent find the situation “ridiculous.”
> “It’s not an investigation if the FBI is going to accept the dictates of the White House in terms of who you can interview and who you can’t,” John Mindermann, a former FBI special agent who investigated the Watergate break-in, told me. Mindermann added that the idea of such a limited investigation is “ridiculous” and that if this holds, “it would be unprofessional, it would be grossly incomplete, and it would be unfair to the American public.”
One element of the investigation that appears to be lacking is the interviewing of Kavanaugh’s former classmates who have contradicted the nominee’s characterization of his drinking behavior in high school and college.
> Another former Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Chad Ludington, has now stepped forward to contest Kavanaugh’s sanitized account of his drinking at Yale, claiming that “on many occasions,” he personally witnessed Kavanaugh “staggering from alcohol consumption,” which made him “often belligerent and aggressive.” Ludington flatly asserted that Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate about this constituted “lies” and said he’s prepared to talk to the FBI.
And others are prepared to do the same, but the FBI appears uninterested in their testimony.
> Indeed, other former classmates who have tried to offer the FBI information about him tell the Times and the New Yorker that they haven’t been interviewed. Democrats have pointed out that Kavanaugh’s drinking should be examined because his minimizing of it goes to the core of his credibility, and at any rate, it appears central to the sexual assault allegations themselves.
Again, former FBI officials say this is not how an investigation typically would be handled.
> Mindermann told me that a “complete investigation” would include talking to more people “in all of the venues in which Kavanaugh interacted — private school, parties, law school.” Mindermann added that if the FBI “did the job they should and can do, I would be very surprised if they did not find relevant, very significant additional information about Kavanaugh.”
> “A complete background check investigation will not be possible without the ability to interview classmates and associates and anybody with knowledge of the circumstances in the time frame in question,” Dennis Franks, a former FBI agent with two decades of experience, added in an interview with me. “The circumstances in this matter deal with allegations of extensive drinking and behavior while intoxicated. This would normally be an issue that is addressed.”
Other avenues that hold potential similarly will be ignored, according to reports.
Ford testified that she saw Judge working in a local grocery store several weeks after the alleged attack. Examining that stores employment records could bolster her case, but this portion of Ford’s testimony is reportedly off-limits for the FBI.
> Then there’s the entry on Kavanaugh’s calendar, which indicated that on July 1, 1982, he was set to go to “Timmy’s” for “skis” — that is, brewskis, or beers — with Judge and Smyth (among others), both of whom Ford has claimed were present. “Timmy” is Timothy Gaudette, and The Post has confirmed that his mother owned a house in the area in the early 1980s. Ford says she does not remember which house the alleged attack happened in.
> But Franks tells me that an FBI background check could include examining that house’s floor plan, to see whether it matches Ford’s testimony about the details of what happened. “It would be relevant,” Franks said, to “determine whether or not it corresponds.” Mindermann agreed.
In the end, it seems evident that neither the White House nor Republicans are interested in a complete investigation to help determine the character of the man they wish to place on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rather, it appears they desire a superficial probe in hopes it will satisfy those lawmakers sitting on the fence while ensuring no further damaging information about Kavanaugh comes to light.
> You’d think that for lawmakers making this enormously consequential decision about a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, it would be better to have more information at their disposal rather than less. But it does not appear that the White House and Republican senators agree.