WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump claims that investigating the sexual assault allegation levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh isn’t really the FBI’s “thing.” It could be if he wanted the bureau to look into it.
Christine Blasey Ford, a clinical psychology professor living in California who is professionally known as Christine Blasey, says a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her over her clothes and covered her mouth with his hand at a party in the suburbs of D.C. in the early 1980s, when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed a public hearing from both parties on Monday.
Blasey, however, has indicated she’d like the FBI to investigate first. Republicans have scoffed at that notion, saying that hearing from Kavanaugh and Blasey would be significant. They’ve also given no indication they’ll subpoena Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s who Blasey said was in the room during the alleged assault, tumbling onto her and Kavanaugh and allowing her to escape.
Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by a multitude of women over the course of his career as a real estate mogul and television celebrity, has all but dismissed Blasey’s allegation, saying it would be “very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told Senate Democrats in a letter on Wednesday that they had a “fundamental misunderstanding of the FBI background investigation process,” and that because Blasey’s allegations “are in the public arena, there is no longer a need for a confidential FBI investigation.”
Grassley said the Senate couldn’t “commandeer” the FBI to conduct its investigation and that the Senate’s own staff would be adequate.
Former executive and legislative branch officials, however, say there’s nothing preventing Trump from asking the FBI to go back and investigate further, even though Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing has already happened and Blasey’s story is public.
The only reason you don’t ask is if you don’t want the answer. Sarah Baker, executive director of We The Action
The FBI’s investigation, of course, wouldn’t be a criminal probe that could result in charges, since Blasey’s allegation falls outside the agency’s jurisdiction. In requesting a background check, the White House would essentially become the FBI’s client, meaning it wouldn’t be improper for Trump to ask the agency to take a particular course of action. The FBI’s report on the matter would not assess the credibility of the allegation, but rather present the information to the White House.
It’s not unusual for the White House to ask for more information about a part of a particular nominee’s background, and it could do so at the request of senators from either political party, said Rudy Mehrbani, a former Obama administration official now with the Brennan Center for Justice.
“This notion that the Senate has no power to ‘commandeer’ an executive branch agency, I think, is not accurate, because they do have the power to persuade the president and the president’s attorneys to conduct this follow-up,” Mehrbani said. “This kind of work can be done quickly.”
The FBI could even be able to conduct the investigation by Monday, argued Sarah Baker, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama who now serves as executive director of We The Action, an organization that connects lawyers to nonprofits.
“This is really easy to do. This is a quick process, I don’t think this needs to take more than a couple of days,” Baker said. “The only reason you don’t ask is if you don’t want the answer.”
The White House acknowledged on Wednesday that the FBI could and would, if Trump asked, look into Ford’s allegation as a supplement to the background investigation it had conducted on Kavanaugh as part of the pre-nomination routine.
However, it would be unprecedented and inappropriate to do so with the nomination already in the hands of the Senate, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
S.V. Date contributed to this report.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.