Several Senate Democrats voiced concern Thursday over the FBI’s 2018 probe into the background of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A top bureau official confirmed in a letter that the FBI had raked in almost 5,000 tips about the then-nominee, forwarding “relevant” ones to the former White House counsel’s office — a practice the senators said raises serious questions regarding the investigation’s thoroughness and validity.
“The FBI received over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions,” a June 30th letter from the FBI to Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Coons reads. “The Security Division section handling the BI and supplemental background investigations provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel.”
The senators took issue with the tips being submitted to the office associated with former President Trump, a strong ally of Kavanaugh at the time, which makes the tips’ fate less than clear.
“The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information ‘highly relevant to . . . allegations’ of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, only to be ignored,” the senators wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray dated Wednesday. “If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all.”
The senators said the FBI’s handling of the Kavanaugh tips raises “significant additional questions” regarding procedures taken by the Justice Department and the White House. The senators pressed Wray to explain, among other things, the criteria agents used to find a tip “relevant”, how the tip line was staffed, and why authorities chose not to interview Kavanaugh.
“Your letter confirms that the FBI’s tip line was a departure from past practice and that the FBI was politically constrained by the Trump White House. It also belies the former president’s insistence that his administration did not limit the Bureau’s investigation of Justice Kavanaugh…” the senators wrote.
Kavanaugh, 56, was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in 2018 following a chaotic vetting process related to a sexual misconduct allegation brought forward by Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford accused Kavanaugh and a classmate of cornering her in a bedroom at a 1980s party, groping her, and trying to take her clothes off. Ford said she thought Kavanaugh might accidentally kill her, and claims she got away when the Justice’s friend, Mark Judge, jumped on the bed and knocked her over.
Several women would follow to also accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, allegations he vehemently denies. The then-judge pushed back against the claims in tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his 4-day confirmation hearing.
“I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person, in some place, at some time. But I have never done this. To her or to anyone,” he said.
The FBI’s initial background investigation into Kavanaugh included interviews with 49 people across the span of less than a week, according to Director Wray. The bureau then opened a supplemental background check following the allegations raised by Ford. That investigation was much smaller, consisting of 10 interviews over six days.
Attorneys for Ford said in a statement Thursday that the details disclosed by the FBI confirms the probe was “a sham and a major institutional failiure.”
“Not only did the FBI refuse to interview Dr. Ford or the corroborators listed in our letter to FBI Director Wray, it failed to act on the over 4,500 tips it received about then-nominee Kavanaugh,” the statement said. “Instead, it handed the information over to the White House, allowing those who supported Kavanaugh to falsely claim that the FBI found no wrongdoing.”