WASHINGTON - The White House is not “micromanaging” a new FBI review of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s background but is leaving it to senators who requested the probe to dictate the parameters of the investigation, advisers close to U.S. President Donald Trump insisted Sunday.
Some Democratic lawmakers claim the White House is keeping investigators from interviewing certain witnesses and have questioned how thorough an investigation that must be concluded by Friday can and will be. Trump tweeted that no amount of time “will never be enough” for Democrats, most of whom oppose giving Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, a seat on the nation’s highest court.
FBI agents on Sunday interviewed Deborah Ramirez, one of three women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of a confidential investigation.
Ramirez detailed her allegation that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in the early 1980s when they were students at Yale University. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
The person familiar with Ramirez’s questioning, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she also provided investigators with the names of others who she said could corroborate her account.
But Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, has not been contacted by the FBI since Trump on Friday ordered the agency to take another look at the nominee’s background, according to a member of Ford’s team.
Kavanaugh has denied assaulting Ford.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House counsel Don McGahn, who is managing Kavanaugh’s nomination, “has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like, and what the scope of the investigation is.”
“The White House isn’t intervening. We’re not micromanaging this process. It’s a Senate process. It has been from the beginning, and we’re letting the Senate continue to dictate what the terms look like,” Sanders said.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the investigation will be “limited in scope” and “will not be a fishing expedition. The FBI is not tasked to do that.”
Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, requested an investigation last Friday — after he and other Republicans on the panel voted along strict party lines in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation — as a condition for his own subsequent vote to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
Another committee member, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said Sunday that testimony would be taken from Ramirez and Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who has been named by two of three women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
“I think that will be the scope of it. And that should be the scope of it,” Graham said.
Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday she is confident in the investigation and “that the FBI will follow up on any leads that result from the interviews.” The Maine Republican supports the new FBI investigation and is among a few Republican and Democratic senators who have not announced a position on Kavanaugh.
Republicans control 51 seats in the closely divided 100-member Senate and cannot afford to lose more than one vote on confirmation.
Collins and Flake spoke throughout the weekend.
Senate Republicans discussed the contours of the investigation with the White House late Friday, according to a person familiar with the call who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had gathered Judiciary Committee Republicans in his office earlier. At that time, the scope of the investigation was requested by Flake, Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart.
Murkowski is not on the committee, but also has not announced how she will vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Republicans later called the White House to discuss the scope of the probe, the person said.
McConnell’s office declined to elaborate Sunday on which allegations would be investigated, reiterating only that it would focus on “current credible allegations.” Stewart said the investigation’s scope “was set” by the three GOP senators Friday and “has not changed.”
But Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a Judiciary Committee member, doubted how credible the investigation will be given the time limit.
“That’s bad enough, but then to limit the FBI as to the scope and who they’re going to question, that — that really — I wanted to use the word farce, but that’s not the kind of investigation that all of us are expecting the FBI to conduct,” she said.
Trump initially opposed such an investigation as allegations began mounting but relented and ordered one on Friday. He later said the FBI has “free rein.”
“They’re going to do whatever they have to do, whatever it is they do. They’ll be doing things that we have never even thought of,” Trump said Saturday as he departed the White House for a trip to West Virginia. “And hopefully at the conclusion everything will be fine.”
He revisited the “scope” question later Saturday on Twitter, writing in part, “I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion.”
Sanders said Trump, who has vigorously defended Kavanaugh but also raised the slight possibility of withdrawing the nomination should damaging information be found, “will listen to the facts.” But she expressed confidence that no new information will be uncovered, noting that the allegations had not surfaced during the judge’s six prior FBI background checks for positions in the executive and judicial branches of government.
“I think we’re all pretty confident, given that we’ve been through this process a number of times, but we would assess that at that point,” Sanders said.
A person familiar with what Senate Republicans have asked of the White House said the request listed the people lawmakers want the FBI to interview and that the White House asked the bureau to carry out the request. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
At least three women have accused Kavanaugh of years-ago misconduct. He denies all the claims.
The third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations. Kavanaugh has called her accusations a “joke.” Judge has said he “categorically” denies the allegations.
Swetnick’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, said Saturday that his client had not been contacted by the FBI but was willing to cooperate with investigators.
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.
Sanders spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” Conway appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Graham and Hirono were interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.”