The White House is limiting the scope of the FBI’s investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, multiple people briefed on the matter told NBC News.
While the FBI will examine the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the bureau has not been permitted to investigate the claims of Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of engaging in sexual misconduct at parties while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in the 1980s, those people familiar with the investigation told NBC News. A White House official confirmed that Swetnick’s claims will not be pursued as part of the reopened background investigation into Kavanaugh.
Ford said in Senate testimony Thursday that she was “100 percent” certain that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. Ramirez alleged that he exposed himself to her when there were students at Yale. Kavanaugh has staunchly denied allegations from Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick.
Instead of investigating Swetnick’s claims, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview, according to several people who discussed the parameters on the condition of anonymity. They characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.
The limited scope seems to be at odds with what some members of the Senate judiciary seemed to expect when they agreed to give the FBI as much as a week to investigate allegations against Kavanaugh, a federal judge who grew up in the Washington DC area and attended an elite all-boys high school before going on to Yale.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who led an 11th hour move in the Senate committee for an FBI inquiry, said he thought the bureau would decide how to carry it out. His Democratic colleague Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said he expected the FBI probe to include “adequate staffing,” support from the committee for “rapid immunity and subpoena decisions as needed, plus the ability to investigate claims of a “penchant for drunkenness and inappropriate treatment of women, particularly where specifically related to incidents under investigation.”
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, referring questions to the White House.
A White House official did not specifically dispute limitations on the scope of the FBI’s investigation but denied the White House was “micromanaging” the inquiry.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said that “the scope and duration has been set by the Senate. The White House is letting the FBI agents do what they are trained to do.”
The Senate has only said that supplemental FBI background investigation “be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today.”
White House counsel Don McGahn, who has shepherded Kavanaugh’s nomination since president Trump chose him for the high court on July 9, is taking the lead for the White House in dealing with the FBI on the investigation, those involved in the process told NBC News.
A U.S. official briefed on the matter said its not unusual for the White House to set the parameters of an FBI background check for a presidential nominee. The FBI had no choice but to agree to these terms, the sources told NBC News, because it is conducting the background investigation on behalf of the White House.
If the FBI learns of others who can corroborate what the existing witnesses are saying, it is not clear whether agents will be able to contact them under the terms laid out by the White House, the two sources briefed on the matter said.
Some areas are off limits, the sources said.
Investigators plan to meet with Mark Judge, a high school classmate and friend of Kavanaugh’s whom Ford named as a witness and participant to her alleged assault.
But as of now, the FBI cannot ask the supermarket that employed Judge for records verifying when he was employed there, one of the sources was told. Ford said in congressional testimony Thursday that those records would help her narrow the time frame of the alleged incident which she recalls happening some time in the summer of 1982 in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Two sources familiar with the investigation said the FBI will also not be able to examine why Kavanaugh’s account of his drinking at Yale University differs from those of some former classmates, who have said he was known as a heavy drinker. Those details may be pertinent to investigating claims from Ramirez who described an alleged incident of sexual misconduct she said occurred while Kavanaugh was inebriated. Ramirez’s lawyer said Saturday that she had been contacted by the FBI and would cooperate.
The conditions under which the FBI’s reopened background check are occurring appears to differ from the one envisioned by Flake, who used his leverage as a swing vote to pressure the Trump administration to order the FBI investigation.
Flake said Friday he thought the FBI should decide the scope of the investigation.
“They’ll have to decide — the FBI you know, how far that goes,” he told reporters. “This is limited in time and scope and I think that it’s appropriate when it’s a lifetime appointment and allegations this serious and we ought to let people know that we’re serious about it.”