Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is calling the FBI’s background investigation into Brett Kavanaugh ‘fake’ – as he demands the bureau be held to account for its activity during the Supreme Court Justice’s bitter confirmation process.
Whitehouse made the claim in a blistering letter to new Attorney General Merrick Garland Monday, where he revisited the charged 2018 confirmation, when Kavanaugh’s fate hung in the balance amid accusations of sexual assault.
He accused the FBI of failing to follow its own guidelines for how to conduct probes and sort through tips of information provided by accusers and witnesses to the alleged events. And he said the bureau never properly probed the fact of the matter of whether Kavanaugh assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford at a party decades ago as she claims he did.
With accusations flying against Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings, senators delayed a vote for a week to allow for a supplemental FBI investigation. But according to Whitehouse, the agency quite possibly conducted its probe ‘with drawbridges up and a fake ‘tip line’ – then proceeded to ‘stonewall’ the matter.
Or, he argued, the agency may have been operating under rules that are themselves out of whack. ‘It cannot and should not be the policy of the FBI to not follow up on serious allegations of misconduct during background check investigations,’ he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called the FBI’s 2018 background probe into now-Supreme Justice Brett Kavanaugh ‘fake’ as he demanded information about it
What happened next did not please Whitehouse. It ‘appears to have been a politically-constrained and perhaps fake FBI investigation into alleged misconduct by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh,’ he wrote.
He noted that Kavanaugh disputed her testimony – he angrily denied it in his confirmation hearing – so there were ‘questions of fact’ to resolve.
The FBI never interviewed Blasey Ford, nor did it interview Kavanaugh.
‘Max Stier, the widely respected president of the Partnership for Public Service, and a college classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh, offered specific corroborating evidence, but the FBI refused to interview Mr. Stier,’ he wrote.
As people brought forward information, ‘the FBI had assigned no person to accept or gather evidence,’ Whitehouse wrote.
‘In addition to showing some cursory efforts to corroborate Dr. Ford’s hearing testimony, our brief review showed that a stack of information had indeed flowed in through the ‘tip line,’ he added.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse blasted the FBI’s handling of the Kavanaugh probe in a letter to the new attorney general
Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a Maryland party decades ago
Whitehouse grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray over the bureau’s failure to respond to questions
Whitehouse wrote new attorney Merrick Garland about the FBI probe and other oversight matters
‘It did not appear, however, that any review had been undertaken of any of the information that flowed through this tip line. We could get no explanation of the tip line procedures,’ he continued.
The background investigation faced not only time constraints, but those relating to its scope, the Washington Post reported in 2018. The probe appears to have focused on Blasey Ford’s allegations, but not claims about Kavanaugh’s alleged drinking and whether he was truthful about it.
The bureau interviewed another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they both attended Yale. But she said there were not indications the FBI interviewed the 20 names she provided who might have information about the alleged incident.
Whitehouse concluded: ‘If standard procedures were violated, and the Bureau conducted a fake investigation rather than a sincere, thorough and professional one, that in my view merits congressional oversight to understand how, why, and at whose behest and with whose knowledge or connivance, this was done.’
Whitehouse tore into FBI Director Chris Wray during his recent testimony in the Senate, demanding the bureau be responsive to questions and requests for information.
‘You going to do any better with the questions that we’re getting right now?’ he pressed Wray at the Judiciary Committee. ‘You’ve been asked questions for the record. Are they going to go into the same, whatever it was, hole where questions for the record go to die at the FBI?’
He told CBS the bureau’s conduct was ‘not tolerable.’
Whitehouse wrote that some witnesses who wanted to share information weren’t able to do so. ‘This was unique behavior in my experience, as the Bureau is usually amenable to information and evidence; but in this matter the shutters were closed, the drawbridge drawn up, and there was no point of entry by which members of the public or Congress could provide information to the FBI,’ he wrote.
He also pressed Garland on other regulatory matters, from anti-trust issues to fossil fuels and IRS enforcement of the ‘explosion’ of political activity by nonprofits after the Citizens United ruling.
Garland vowed during his own confirmation, which went through on a bipartisan vote, not to let politics interfere with decision-making at the agency. He has his own experience with the Senate’s confirmation process. He never got a hearing from the Republican-controlled Senate after President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court.
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.