• Politics
  • FBI

FBI Says It Lacks White House Approval to Talk to Kavanaugh and Ford

5 minute read

The FBI hasn’t interviewed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford because it doesn’t have clear authority from the White House to do so, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Instead, the White House has indicated to the FBI that testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, who has accused him of attempting to rape her when they were in high school, before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is sufficient, said the people, who asked to not be identified discussing the sensitive matter.

The new evidence of constraints on the FBI probe came as Republican Senator Bob Corker told reporters the FBI is likely to give senators a stack of interview reports, probably later on Wednesday. He said senators were told in a GOP meeting that a vote on cutting off debate is likely on Friday to move toward a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh.

A tentative plan for viewing the report is that a single copy will be available in a secure room for senators to view starting Thursday morning, at one-hour intervals alternating between Republicans and Democrats, according to a person briefed on the matter.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to force the issue and seek explicit approval from the White House to interview Ford and Kavanaugh. And it wasn’t clear why the FBI hasn’t yet talked to other people who have been recommended by lawyers or who have voluntarily come forward — or if the bureau would need explicit approval to talk with them as well.

Confusion beset the investigation, fed by conflicting signals over what constraints have been placed on the bureau despite President Donald Trump’s comment Monday that “the FBI should interview anybody that they want, within reason.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that the lack of interviews with Ford, Kavanaugh and others “raises serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation and begs the question: What other restrictions has the White House placed on the FBI?”

The FBI declined to comment on the investigation or its timing.

White House View

A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House views the FBI inquiry as a supplemental background investigation, with its scope limited to the sex-assault allegations. That suggests its view is that agents don’t need to go back over ground already covered by last week’s Senate Judiciary hearing or delve into allegations about Kavanaugh’s past drinking habits that may contradict his testimony.

“We’re going to allow the Senate to make the determination of the scope,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday. Officials have said the White House is relying on a request from the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee setting out the terms for the FBI inquiry.

On Monday, three days into the probe, the White House gave the FBI approval to interview more people, but the bureau is still constrained by an initial directive to investigate only credible allegations of sexual misconduct, the person said. Those restrictions are still limiting the number of people the bureau can interview and agents have only talked to a small number of individuals, the person said.

FBI field offices also lack a clear understanding of what they can do when people come forward voluntarily with information that could be relevant to the investigation, the person said.

Wray’s Documenting

FBI Director Christopher Wray is documenting what’s happening behind the scenes in order to help ensure the bureau’s activities in the politically charged investigation are captured and perhaps made public one day, the person said.

Among those who have been interviewed by the FBI are Kavanaugh’s high school friends Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed and encouraged the attack on her, Chris Garrett and Patrick J. Smyth. Agents also have talked with Deborah Ramirez, who claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were freshmen at Yale University.

The bureau hasn’t interviewed Julie Swetnick, who accused Kavanaugh of taking part in efforts at parties during high school to get girls intoxicated so that groups of boys could have sex with them, according to her attorney Michael Avenatti. Kavanaugh has denied all of the allegations of sexual impropriety.

McConnell, Schumer

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had accurately predicted earlier that Democrats would say that the “supplemental background investigation for which my friends had clamored would suddenly become insufficient.”

“It’s time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us,” said McConnell, who reiterated his plan to hold at least a preliminary vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation this week.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We have no idea if the FBI is doing a real investigation or simply preparing a fig leaf at the direction of the White House for Republicans to vote yes.”

Regarding Wray, Schumer of New York said, “If he’s being constrained by the White House, he has an obligation to let us know.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com