Brett Kavanaugh’s future hangs in the balance as FBI begins investigation
Posted On July 16, 2020
The FBI was on Saturday embarking on a high-stakes investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, ahead of a vote this week which will shape the contours of the United States for decades to come.
Donald Trump, the US president, on Friday evening threw his support behind the investigation, which is designed to search for any information supporting either Mr Kavanaugh’s emphatic insistence that he never sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford at a party in 1982, or Prof Ford’s unwavering belief that he did.
Mr Trump said the FBI’s enquiry “must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” after which the Senate will vote on whether to approve Mr Kavanaugh to the life-long role of justice on the Supreme Court.
James Gagliano, a retired supervisory special agent at the FBI, said compiling all the information in a week, from an incident 36 years ago, was “a damn daunting – if not impossible – tasking.”
But, he added, it was the “right path”.
Fully convinced FBI investigation into alleged misconduct from 36-years ago, replete w/vagaries & gaps in accuser's recollection of same, will be damn daunting — if not impossible — tasking.
Also won't change many obstreperous partisan positions.
But it's RIGHT path forward.
— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) September 28, 2018
The investigation into the alleged incident, which Prof Ford said took place at a house in Maryland, will be run from the FBI’s Washington DC office, with oversight at the most senior levels. Extra officers are likely to be drafted in to meet the deadline.
"They could just about drop everything else they’re doing, every other background check for generals to get the next star, and cabinet secretaries and US attorneys," said Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director. "If they want to put 500 agents on this tomorrow they could do that."
One of their first tasks will be speaking to possible corroborating witnesses. Mark Judge, Mr Kavanaugh’s friend, was said by Prof Ford to be in the room when the then 17-year-old Mr Kavanaugh allegedly hustled her into a bedroom, closed the door, pinned her to the bed and attempted to rip off her clothes.
Mr Judge, who has been hiding out at a beach house in Delaware for the past week, declined to speak at Thursday’s Senate hearing, but has said he is willing to speak to the FBI.
He denies all knowledge of the attack recalled by Prof Ford, saying her accusations are “bizarre” and politically-motivated, adding: “It’s no situation I recall ever being in.”
Prof Ford told the committee that she crossed paths with Mr Judge at a Safeway supermarket a few weeks after the attack, and that he looked ashen upon seeing her. The FBI could ask Safeway for their employment records, in an attempt to narrow down the time frame of the attack, Prof Ford being unable to recall the exact date that summer.
Investigators are also likely to speak in the coming days to Leland Keyser and P.J. Smyth, high school friends who Prof Ford said were at the party. Both have said they do not remember being at any such party, but are willing to cooperate.
The FBI cannot compel anyone to speak to them, or obtain search warrants, unlike in a criminal investigation.
Another team will likely try to determine the house at which the party took place, scouring housing records to find where friends of Prof Ford and Mr Kavanaugh lived at the time, and searching for a property that fits her description of having a bathroom upstairs, with a narrow staircase and a bedroom opposite the bathroom.
And Prof Ford’s account is not the only one being investigated by the FBI, a source close to the inquiry told the New York Times.
Deborah Ramirez, in an interview with The New Yorker, alleged that Mr Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a night of drinking when they were both students at Yale. Agents are now expected to seek interviews with his university friends, roommates and fraternity brothers about his drinking habits at Yale, and his behaviour at parties in Lawrance Hall, where he lived that year and where Ms Ramirez claimed the episode occurred.
Another woman, Julie Swetnick, on Wednesday became the third woman to accuse Mr Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, although it was not clear whether her claims were also being investigated.
Their report, known as a 302 after the number of the form that agents fill out, will likely be dry and factual.
“They will report what the results are – whether they are exculpatory or not,” said Robert Cromwell, a former agent who oversaw these types of investigations. “The results will stand on their own.”
For Prof Ford’s supporters and the Democratic party, it is an essential document, to guarantee the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.
But for Mr Kavanaugh’s die-hard defenders, such as South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, it’s a time-wasting distraction.
“You can have the FBI, the CIA, and the foreign legion,” he said. “And they’re not going to tell us more than we already know.”
Why is the FBI now investigating?
Essentially because Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona, changed his mind at the last minute and said he would only vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh if the FBI investigated first. The idea was floated in the Senate committee hearing by Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.
“I thought, if we could actually get something like what he was asking for – an investigation limited in time, limited in scope – we could maybe bring a little unity,” said Mr Flake on Saturday, adding that he feared the committee was “falling apart” amid entrenched partisan gridlock.
Why didn’t Mr Kavanaugh and his Republican supporters want the FBI to investigate?
Their reluctance is all due to timing. The midterm elections are only five weeks away, on November 6 – if, as expected, the Republicans do badly, then they will be severely weakened in their attempts to get the man they want elected to the highest court in the land.
George W. Bush has been picking up the phone to call Senators, lobbying them to support Mr Kavanaugh, who worked in the White House for Mr Bush and through him met his wife Ashley, who was Mr Bush’s personal secretary.
What happens after the FBI produces its report?
There will be a vote in the Senate, where 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats currently sit.
It’s still not clear whether Mr Kavanaugh can get to at least 50 votes on the Senate floor, which would allow Mike Pence, the vice president, to break a tie and confirm him to the Supreme Court.
Key to Mr Kavanaugh’s future are the votes of Mr Flake, plus two undecided Republican women – Susan Collins, for Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Mr Flake held out the possibility of rejecting him for the role.
“I’m a conservative. He’s a conservative,” he said. “I plan to support him unless they turn up something – and they might.”
And adding to the complexity, two Democrats in heavily-Republican states – Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – are both up for re-election this year, and are reportedly undecided about Mr Kavanaugh.
What happens if his candidacy is rejected?
Then the process starts again. Waiting in the wings are believed to be Amy Coney Barrett, Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman, chosen from a list of 25 judges selected by the conservative Federalist Society.
But that does mean that Mr Trump will not get his first choice of Supreme Court justice in time for the midterms – and you can bet he will use that to galvanise his base, urging his supporters to vote and ensure that he has sympathetic Republicans in Congress.
A surge in turnout might be a problem for Democrats.