Donald Trump

White House Authorizes FBI to Expand Kavanaugh Probe

Officials said it was possible, but not likely, the bureau could complete its work before Friday

The White House has authorized the FBI to expand its initially limited investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, NBC News reported Monday.

NBC News cited a senior U.S. official and a separate source briefed on the matter. The New York Times first reported the change in the scope.

The new guidance comes as the FBI presses ahead with its investigation, questioning in recent days at least two people about accusations of misconduct against Kavanaugh dating to when he was in high school and college.

President Donald Trump, addressing those concerns at a news conference Monday, said he wants the FBI to do a "comprehensive" investigation and "it wouldn't bother me at all" if agents pursued accusations made by three women who have come forward publicly. But he also said Senate Republicans are determining the parameters of the investigation and "ultimately, they're making the judgment."

"My White House will do whatever the senators want," Trump said. "The one thing I want is speed."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked the questions about Kavanaugh's drinking in high school and college and accused Democrats of "moving the goalpost" in a bid to stop the nomination. He pledged that the Senate will be voting on Kavanaugh this week.

"The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close," he said.

The revised guidance was aimed at promoting an investigation that could tamp down Democratic criticism and satisfy on-the-fence Republicans about its thoroughness and fairness while also ensuring a fixed deadline to prevent the probe from becoming open-ended and spanning weeks.

Officials said it was possible, but not likely, the bureau could complete its work before Friday.

Trump said a comprehensive investigation is "a good thing" for Kavanaugh. He said that while it was fine that the FBI wants to interview all three women who have made accusations, "we don't want to go on a witch hunt, do we?"

As Republicans and Democrats quarreled over whether the FBI would have enough time and freedom to conduct a thorough investigation before a vote on the nomination, agents over the weekend interviewed Deborah Ramirez — a Yale University classmate who has said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when both were students at Yale in the early 1980s.

Ramirez also provided investigators with the names of others who she said could corroborate her account, according to a person familiar with her questioning. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

A separate accuser, California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, had not been contacted by the FBI as of Monday afternoon to schedule an interview, according to a person close to her.

Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, sharing the allegation at an extraordinary congressional hearing last week that also included Kavanaugh's angry and emotional denial.

The FBI, meanwhile, has interviewed at least four people.

They include Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh's who Ford has said was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Judge has denied misconduct allegations. On Monday, his lawyer Barbara "Biz" Van Gelder said Judge had been interviewed by the FBI "but his interview has not been completed." Van Gelder declined to elaborate.

Another witness, Patrick "P.J." Smyth, answered "every question" he was asked and told agents he had "no knowledge" of the small gathering that Ford described, according to his attorney, Eric Bruce. Smyth also told the FBI he doesn't have "knowledge of Ford's allegations of improper conduct against Kavanaugh," Bruce said.

The FBI has also interviewed Leland Keyser, who Ford said attended the same party. Keyser's attorney, Howard Walsh, said she was questioned by FBI agents Saturday, but he didn't provide any additional details about the interview.

Walsh has said his client doesn't know Kavanaugh and has no recollection of ever being at a party with him. He has said Keyser believes Ford's account but is "unable to corroborate it because she has no recollection of the incident in question."

Since Trump, under pressure from three undecided Republicans, ordered the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh's background check Friday, the White House has scrambled to defend the process from Democratic complaints that certain witnesses were being kept off-limits.

Officials insisted that they were not "micromanaging" the new one-week review of Kavanaugh's background and insisted that Republican senators were dictating the inquiry's scope.

But questions about the investigation's expansiveness mounted as additional witnesses came forward with accounts they wanted to present to the FBI about Kavanaugh's behavior.

In a statement Sunday, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's said he is "deeply troubled by what has been a blatant mischaracterization by Brett himself of his drinking at Yale." Charles "Chad" Ludington, who now teaches at North Carolina State University, said he was a friend of Kavanaugh's at Yale and said Kavanaugh was "a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker."

While saying that youthful drinking should not condemn a person for life, Ludington said he was concerned about Kavanaugh's statements under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations. Kavanaugh has called her accusations a "joke." Judge "categorically" denies the allegations.

Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti, said Monday that his client was willing to cooperate with the FBI but has not been contacted.

Ford also has said Judge was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Judge has said he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh. Judge has also denied misconduct allegations.

As the fresh review unfolded, the prosecutor brought in by Republicans to question Ford at last week's hearing outlined in a memo why she did not believe criminal charges would be brought against Kavanaugh if it were a criminal case rather than a Supreme Court confirmation process.

Rachel Mitchell argued that that there were inconsistencies in Ford's narrative and said no one has corroborated Ford's account. Ford was not questioned as part of a criminal proceeding but in the confirmation process.

In a sometimes testy news conference at the White House, Trump contrasted Kavanaugh's past drinking habits to his own, bemoaned the scrutiny the federal judge has received and trained his ire on Democratic senators who brought  Ford's accusation of an attempted rape at a small gathering in suburban Washington, D.C., while they were both in high school.

Asked if Kavanaugh lying about his drinking habits would disqualify him, Trump said he was "surprised at how vocal he was about how much he likes beer" but insisted he didn't think Kavanaugh was lying.

Trump then brought up the fact that he doesn't drink — he's said that his older brother's alcoholism kept him away from alcohol — and noted it was one of his only good traits.

"Can you imagine if I had [been a drinker], what a mess I'd be? I'd be the world's worst," Trump said.

Nine of the 10 Democratic senators on the judiciary committee identified 24 people or entities they believe should be part of the FBI's new background check on Kavanaugh in a letter sent Monday to White House counsel Don McGahn and FBI Director Chris Wray. The list includes all three accusers, Kavanaugh and friends of his and Ford's who she said were at the gathering where she was allegedly assaulted.

Sen. Jeff Coons of Delaware was the only Democrat on the committee not to sign the letter. He helped broker the dramatic deal with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., in which Flake requested the investigation as a condition for ultimately voting to confirm Kavanaugh.

On Monday, Flake said he would work to ensure the FBI conducts a thorough probe of the accusations.

"It does us no good to have an investigation that just gives us more cover," Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told hundreds of young people at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Boston. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us