The FBI’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh did not come up with any new information, according to accounts from several senators who were briefed on the report Thursday.
That means Republicans are claiming they’ve done more than enough to clear Kavanaugh of these allegations — while Democrats are left in the same place they were before they even surfaced: calling for more time and information about Kavanaugh’s record and past.
The FBI reached out to 10 people in the supplemental background check and interviewed nine. Those nine people did not include Kavanaugh himself, who denies the allegations, or Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto University professor who claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Nor did it include, according to a letter Ford’s lawyers sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray, Ford’s husband, the polygraph examiner, or other friends who submitted affidavits.
“We had many fears that this was a very limited process that would constrain the FBI from getting all of the facts,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference Thursday. “Those fears have been realized.”
The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who was the first senator to hear of Ford’s allegations, echoed the concern, saying, “the most notable part of this report is what’s not in it.”
But these gaps in the investigation aren’t fazing Republican senators. Even those who have been most sympathetic to Ford’s claims, like Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Jeff Flake (AZ), said they found the report to be thorough enough. Republicans left the secure room in the Senate basement, where they reviewed the FBI’s report, only saying there’s no corroborating evidence toward Ford’s testimony — a bar many have set in order to vote for Kavanaugh.
It’s left Senate Democrats, who say the investigation was conducted in haste, and with little intent of actual fact gathering, at a dead end.
For weeks Democrats have been calling for an extensive FBI investigation into multiple credible allegations of sexual assault raised against Kavanaugh. Republican leaders reluctantly acquiesced, only after it became clear that they didn’t even have enough support to confirm Kavanaugh within their own ranks.
Now, with an FBI investigation completed and the Republicans pushing toward a vote as soon as possible, Democrats may be out of ways to stop the vote.
“I really do think that some folks have overplayed their hand just a little bit here,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is supportive of Kavanaugh, said, referencing his Democratic colleagues.
Republicans feel good about the FBI investigation. Democrats don’t.
Most Senate Republicans left the secure room in the Senate basement — the SCIF — after viewing the FBI’s supplemental background check and appeared confident in Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“I feel more comfortable than I did before,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told reporters. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the mood in the room was light as senators were being briefed. Key swing votes, including Sens. Collins and Flake, characterized the FBI investigation as “thorough,” and Flake said he had seen no additional information to corroborate Ford’s account.
“Ten witnesses, 46 pages,” Sen. Corker said. “No corroboration, the FBI wasn’t hindered, so whatever may be said later on, it was a very thorough presentation. Very positive.”
Democrats claimed the opposite: that the report wasn’t particularly thorough and that it had been controlled from the beginning by the Trump administration.
“The White House obviously limited what they could look at and the White House clearly controlled the process, and that raises questions of credibility in my mind,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said after being briefed on the report.
Democratic senators who came out of the briefing were loathe to even call the FBI’s information a full report, characterizing it instead as summaries from FBI agents. Feinstein called the FBI’s investigation “incomplete,” and criticized the limited amount of time senators were being given to review the results.
Other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary shared her concerns.
“There is no report, there’s statements,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told reporters. “The FBI has not briefed us. Staff has briefed us.”
Her statement was echoed by fellow Judiciary Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who said he wouldn’t characterize the briefing and document as a full report. Whitehouse reports that he disagreed with Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley’s statement that the report contained no hint of misconduct from Kavanaugh.
When asked whether he thought the FBI investigation had done enough to assuage the concerns of Flake and Collins — the two votes that matter for Kavanaugh’s confirmation — Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) suggested the whole thing “smacks of a whitewash, and even a coverup.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who played a role in convincing Flake to pressure Republican leadership into an FBI investigation last week, seemed to be the most generous with what had come of the final report. He said it fell short of his expectations, but added that he was happy there was at least some kind of inquiry.
“Senators are now in a better position to reach conclusions then they were a week ago,” Coons said. “There will be folks disappointed who say this does not clearly and completely exonerate Judge Kavanaugh, there will be folks disappointed that say this does not clearly corroborate Dr. Ford. That’s in the nature of both an investigation and a compromise.”
Republicans and Democrats have been talking past each other through Kavanaugh’s whole confirmation process
Nothing about the handling of Kavanaugh’s confirmation has been bipartisan.
From the beginning, Democrats have raised concerns about whether the public had enough information about Kavanaugh’s background and record. First it was about Kavanaugh’s long paper trail; the Bush White House library released 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House Monday night, just hours before the start of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings earlier this month.
Then, when Ford went public with her allegations of sexual misconduct, Democrats argued that Senate Republicans in 2018 did less to investigate allegations of sexual assault than the Senate did in 1991, when Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The FBI investigated Hill’s allegations, although Thomas went on to be confirmed.
Republican staff conducted the first inquiry into the allegations of sexual misconduct largely on their own; Democratic staff only participated in a few calls, in part because they said they were not given enough notice, and in part because the Democratic staff said congressional staff should not be involved.
And when it came to an FBI investigation, Republicans and Democrats have walked away with opposite understanding of the information being presented to them.
There’s no question that Republicans have been pushing to get Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court before the 2018 midterm elections, to avoid the small-but-possible risk that Republicans lose control of the Senate.
At this point it’s clear Democrats have nowhere to turn. They are back to telling Americans what they had been saying at the beginning: that the cards are stacked against them.