New revelations confirm suspicions that the Trump administration limited an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
In the fall of 2018, after California professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a high school gathering more than three decades earlier, a bitterly divided Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50 to 48.
Before the vote, in response to intense pressure by protestors, Republicans authorized a limited supplemental investigation to be conducted by the FBI into the allegations by Ford and another woman, Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh forced his penis in her face when they were students at Yale in the 1980s. After a one-week investigation, the FBI reported to the Republican controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, which concluded that “there is no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford or Ms. Ramirez.”
Many believed at the time that the FBI investigation was inadequate and that the Senate rushed to vote on the nomination in order to stop further inquiry into Kavanaugh’s past. Many saw the rush to confirm Kavanaugh was part of a strategy between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stack the federal courts with right-wing judges.
Months later, FBI director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s supplemental investigation into Kavanaugh. At a hearing on July 23, 2019, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) questioned Wray about the lack of a clear process by which the public and members of Congress could relay information to the FBI, noting that the only conduit for this information was a “tip line” and that the FBI did not appear to pursue any of the tips received. Wray testified that the FBI ran the investigation “by the book.”
In a follow-up letter dated August 1, 2019, Whitehouse and Coons asked Wray for details about how the FBI conducted the supplemental investigation into Kavanaugh. In the letter, the senators expressed concern over the lack of a clear process about how people with information could contact the FBI and how agency would handle that information received.
“It appears that information disappeared into a ‘tip line,’” said Whitehouse and Coons.
They noted that the FBI did not interview the accuser or the accused and did not pursue credible leads in the investigations. They also expressed concern about whether the Trump unduly limited the investigation. They set out a list of 18 questions about the investigation and asked for a response by August 30, 2019.
Nearly two years later and after repeated follow-up requests, the FBI finally responded to the senators’ letter. On June 30, 2021, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs Jill C. Tyson sent a letter to Whitehouse and Coons, revealing new information about the Kavanaugh investigation.
Tyson reported that the FBI received over 4,500 tips in relation to the investigation and interviewed 10 people. She also said the FBI “provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel.” Tyson confirmed the FBI’s use of a tip line was unprecedented and that it “provided all relevant tips” to Trump’s Office of White House Counsel. Tyler did not provide any details about how—or whether—the FBI investigated the tips. The letter did not answer most of the senators’ questions.
Undaunted, the senators are trying once again to get their questions answered, this time joined by five additional colleagues. On July 21, Sens. Whitehouse, Coons, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sent another letter to Wray requesting additional information and noting that Tyson did not respond to the questions about how the FBI investigated the tips.
“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,” wrote the senators. “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.”
The senators’ letter set out another list of detailed questions and requested any records and communications related to the tip line investigation, including the tips provided to the White House. They asked for a response by August 21, 2021.
Whitehouse has called the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh a “sham” with a “fake tip line that never got properly reviewed, that was presumably not even conducted in good faith.”
Advocates Call for Special Counsel
Women’s rights advocates expressed shock and dismay—but not surprise—at these recent revelations about the Kavanaugh investigation.
“Every day, survivors in this country bear the aftermath of unthinkable acts of harassment and violence, a toll they endure in their lives, their reputations, their relationships, and their careers. And for so many of them, they do so only to be retraumatized by the institutions and systems meant to protect them,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “Today’s revelations are a reminder of this fact, and a reconfirmation of what we have known for the last three years: the Senate, the Trump White House, and the FBI grossly mishandled Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony.”
The National Women’s Law Center is calling for the Senate Judiciary Committee examine how the FBI and Trump’s White House Counsel conducted the supplemental investigation. They are demanding the Senate Judiciary Committee hold public hearings and commit to publicly releasing the full extent of the FBI’s findings and disclosures to Donald Trump’s White House counsel related to its investigation.
“These recent developments demand immediate action—and it is incumbent on the Senate Judiciary Committee to do so,” said Goss Graves. “Without further delay, the committee must examine and hold hearings on the handling of the investigation by the FBI and the previous administration’s White House counsel.”
The NWLC is also calling for an independent investigation by special counsel into the underlying sexual assault allegations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the veracity of Justice Kavanaugh’s responses. “We must remember that there is no deadline on justice,” said Gross Graves.
Goss Graves is demanding that the investigation occur in consultation with independent, trauma-informed professionals who have the training and experience necessary to appropriately and respectfully handle a matter involving sexual assault.
“The conduct and character of a Supreme Court justice is relevant to the lives of every single person in this country,” said Gross Graves. “At stake is the very legitimacy of the court, and this nation’s trust and faith in the entire confirmation process.”