Jul 22, 2021
Rights groups and other progressives are demanding a probe of the FBI's rushed and limited 2018 background investigation into U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after seven Democratic senators on Thursday revealed new details about the bureau's actions.
Kavanaugh was nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump and narrowly confirmed by GOP senators in October 2018, despite allegations of sexual assault, which Kavanaugh has denied. A newly released letter to lawmakers from the FBI sheds light on--but also raises more questions about--how the bureau handled its investigation of those allegations.
In August 2019, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) sent a letter (pdf) asking FBI Director Christopher Wray to provide a full picture of the bureau's 2018 supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh. On June 30, 2021, they finally received a response (pdf) from Jill C. Tyson, an FBI assistant director.
The FBI's letter, which the senators made public, says in part that:
Justice Kavanaugh's nomination was the first time that the FBI set up a tip line for a nominee undergoing Senate confirmation. It was established at the direction of the FBI's Security Division to centralize and manage incoming information related to the nomination. The FBI received over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions. The Security Division section handling the BI and supplemental background investigations provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel (as the requesting entity).
In a joint statement Thursday, Whitehouse and Coons, along with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), revealed they sent Wray another letter (pdf) Wednesday evening to request more information.
"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. "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."
Whitehouse was more blunt in remarks to The New York Times, suggesting that the FBI ran a "fake tip line that never got properly reviewed, that was presumably not even conducted in good faith."
Progressive activists and advocacy organizations were similarly critical and demanded action from Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice.
\u201cThis is mind blowing. The Trump administration was pulling the strings during the deeply flawed Kavanaugh investigation. \n \nWe need hearings and an investigation. Now.\n\n#CourtsMatter\nhttps://t.co/CmIsXfXp15\u201d— Ben Jealous (@Ben Jealous) 1626973162
"Three years ago, our nation watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez shared their painful stories with the world about Brett Kavanaugh's abusive behavior. Today, we learn that our institutions failed them both," said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of the national gender justice group UltraViolet.
Thomas called the recent revelations "deeply troubling" and said that "the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold a public hearing on the handling of the investigation by the FBI and interference from the White House Counsel and release those findings publicly."
"We owe it to survivors to ensure that they have systems of justice that treat their accusations seriously--and the failure to do so in this case is not only a betrayal of these survivors' trust, but of our nation's justice system as a whole," she said.
Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, similarly recalled witnessing "incredible courage as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford shared her truth with the world."
Today's revelations confirm and make more dire what we knew at the time--the allegations by Dr. Blasey Ford and Debbie Ramirez against Brett Kavanaugh were grossly mishandled. The Trump White House and Senate Republicans shamefully stifled an investigation to rush the process and guarantee their nominee a seat on the Supreme Court. These unconscionable actions undermine the Senate's constitutional role and continue to cast a shadow on the integrity of the court.
There are still numerous unanswered questions in the absence of a full and comprehensive investigation that should have taken place. We call for a full investigation into the large number of tips the FBI received about Justice Kavanaugh, how this process came to be, and who was involved. There must be full accountability.
Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron concurred, noting that "we have said since the beginning that the FBI's investigation during Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation process was a sham designed to protect his reputation instead of investigate credible allegations of sexual assault against him."
Aron called for the Justice Department to "immediately reopen its investigation into the past behavior of Justice Kavanaugh and determine if he intentionally misled Congress and the American public during his confirmation hearings."
She said the DOJ should also "conduct an expeditious review of how this investigation was conducted and share the details with the public."
Applauding the senators who continue to push for answers, Aron added that "survivors deserve justice, and the country deserves to know the full truth of this situation, as well as the lengths the Trump administration was willing to go to cover up the truth about Kavanaugh's behavior and ensure his confirmation."
\u201cThere is nothing stopping Democrats in the House and/or Senate from interviewing the witnesses the FBI never spoke to, and collecting the FBI tips the Trump White House apparently buried, as part of its own investigation into whether Kavanaugh committed perjury.\u201d— Brian Fallon (@Brian Fallon) 1626974665
Like Aron, Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon highlighted his organization's long-standing critiques of Kavanaugh's elevation to the Supreme Court and declared that "the public deserves to know the truth about the cover-up that took place in 2018 and what the Trump administration may have concealed."
"Unlike in the fall of 2018, Democrats now hold the gavels in both the Senate and House," Fallon noted. "With so much credible evidence that Kavanaugh committed perjury, the relevant committees should be mounting their own investigation by directly interviewing the witnesses the FBI never spoke to, collecting the tips the Trump White House tried to bury, and insisting on the records from the National Archives that were withheld in 2018."
\u201cToday's news from @nytimes confirms what we have known for the last three years: the Senate, the Trump White House, and the FBI grossly mishandled Dr. Christine Blasey Ford\u2019s brave testimony.\n\nWe demand immediate action, and accountability now. https://t.co/RLd4d64IKo\u201d— National Women's Law Center (@National Women's Law Center) 1626970616
Ford's attorneys, Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, also responded to the revelations in a statement. The FBI's letter, they said, "confirms what we knew"--that the bureau's investigation into Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh "was a sham and a major institutional failure."
"This never should have been an ordinary background check," Katz and Banks continued, noting that the FBI refused to interview Ford or the corroborators listed in their letter to the bureau's director.
"The FBI should have referred the evidence it was receiving to the Criminal Investigation Division. FBI Director Wray must answer the question as to why he failed to do so," the pair added. "Because the FBI and Trump's White House Counsel hid the ball on this, we do not know how many of those 4,500 tips were consequential, how many of those tips supported Dr. Ford's testimony, or how many showed that Kavanaugh perjured himself during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Our nation deserved better."
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