F.B.I. Completes Kavanaugh Background Check, Senate Moves Forward On Vote
The F.B.I.'s updated background check is complete and will be reviewed by Senators beginning today. As a result, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is moving forward toward a final vote on the Kavanaugh nomination later this week.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s updated background check on Judge Brett Kavanaugh was completed and delivered to the White House yesterday, and will be available to Senators to view beginning this morning. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is moving forward with the procedure that will bring the nomination to the floor for procedural votes beginning tomorrow and a final vote most likely on Saturday:
WASHINGTON — The White House sent summaries of interviews conducted by the F.B.I. to the Senate early Thursday morning and expressed confidence that none of the information collected by agents should stand in the way of the Senate voting to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
The material was conveyed to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night, just hours after Senate Republicans set the stage for a pair of votes later in the week to move to final approval of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. A statement issued by the White House around 2:30 a.m. said the F.B.I. had completed its work and that it represented an unprecedented look at a nominee.
“The White House has received the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, and it is being transmitted to the Senate,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in the statement, which was posted on Twitter.
“This is the last addition to the most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history, which includes extensive hearings, multiple committee interviews, over 1,200 questions for the record and over a half million pages of documents,” he added. “With this additional information, the White House is fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.”
The White House statement gave no further details about the material, but an official briefed on the F.B.I. review said the bureau contacted 10 people and interviewed nine of them. It was not clear why the 10th person was not interviewed. The White House concluded that the interviews did not corroborate sexual misconduct accusations against Judge Kavanaugh.
Senators will be permitted to review the materials, in what the F.B.I. calls 302 interview summaries, in a secured room at the Capitol starting on Thursday morning, or they can be briefed by a handful of staff members who are cleared to examine the material. After a day of review, the Senate is on track to take an initial vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday and possibly a final vote as early as Saturday.
Among those the bureau did not interview were Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. The White House said that was not necessary because they testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours last week.
The F.B.I. apparently did not explore allegations by a third accuser, Julie Swetnick, who is represented by Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who also works for Stephanie Clifford, the former pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels who was paid hush money to keep her from discussing what she said was an extramarital affair with Mr. Trump before the 2016 presidential election. Senate Democrats have not focused as much on Ms. Swetnick’s assertions as on those of Dr. Blasey and Ms. Ramirez.
The official briefed on the review said the bureau focused on the incidents described by Dr. Blasey and Ms. Ramirez but did not go out of its way to pursue broader questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s drinking during high school and college. Judge Kavanaugh told the committee last week that while he sometimes drank too much beer, he never blacked out. Former classmates have since come forward to say he misled the committee about the extent of his drinking.
More from The Washington Post:
The White House prepared late Wednesday to send the FBI’s completed report on Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Senate, as partisan rancor continued to grow over the scope of the investigation into sexual assault allegations that have endangered his confirmation.
The latest FBI probe updating Kavanaugh’s background check was set to arrive Wednesday night on Capitol Hill, according to two people familiar with its release. White House officials have been briefed on the FBI’s findings, the people said.
In anticipation of the report’s arrival, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night teed up a key vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday. Until that vote, senators will be rushing in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to review the sensitive FBI report that the bureau has compiled, looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.’
“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” McConnell said Wednesday night.
The developments came as Senate Democrats opened a new front in their objections to the investigations of Kavanaugh’s conduct, suggesting in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that past FBI background checks of Kavanaugh include evidence of inappropriate behavior, without disclosing specifics.
The letter, signed by eight of the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, challenged the accuracy of a tweet from the committee’s Republican staff on Tuesday that said: “Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which the committee has reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there ever a whiff of ANY issueThis — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse.”
The Democrats said the information in the tweet is “not accurate,” urging the GOP to correct it.
“It is troubling that the committee majority has characterized information from Judge Kavanaugh’s confidential background investigation on Twitter, as that information is confidential and not subject to public release,” the Democrats, led by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), wrote to Grassley. “If the committee majority is going to violate that confidentiality and characterize this background investigation publicly, you must at least be honest about it.”
The two committee Democrats who did not sign the letter were Sens. Christopher A. Coons (Del.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).
Grassley’s staff responded on Twitter that ”nothing in the tweet is inaccurate or misleading.”
“The committee stands by its statement, which is completely truthful,” the committee Republicans said. “More baseless innuendo and more false smears from Senate Democrats.”
Once the FBI report is sent to the Hill, it will be available at a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in the Capitol Visitor Center, a secure room designed for senators to review sensitive or classified material, two Senate officials said. Just one physical copy of the report will be available, and only to senators and 10 committee staffers cleared to view the material.
The two parties will take turns having access to the FBI report in shifts, according to a senior Senate official. For example, Republicans will spend an hour with the report from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. Thursday, then Democrats will have an hour with the report. It will rotate throughout the rest of the day Thursday and potentially into Friday, with senators being briefed by staff members simultaneously.
For what it’s worth, the White House is saying that there is nothing in the new report to support the claims against Kavanaugh.
Thanks to a policy agreement between the Senate and the Executive Branch that was reached back in 2009, and which predates other similar agreements, the contents of the background check will not be made public and will effectively be treated as classified material even though it is not marked as classified, This means both that Senators will not be permitted to share copies of the report with the public and that Senators and staffers authorized to review the report will not be authorized to reveal details contained in the report publicly beyond making generalized public statements that don’t disclose any of the details of the report. The reason for this restriction is easy to understand given the fact that these background checks often include personally sensitive information as well as identifying information regarding people who were interviewed for the report whose identity should not be made public. There’s also the potential that releasing the full report, even in a redacted form, would lead to the revelation of Bureau “sources and methods.”
For what it’s worth, the White House is saying that there is nothing in the new report to support the claims against Kavanaugh. All that being said, it’s likely that we’ll get at least some sense of what is in the report as the day goes on. While it’s unlikely that the full report will be released, for example, it is likely that someone will leak at least some of the details in the report to the media on a background basis. This will be even more likely if the report contains information that either corroborates or tends to detract from the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh or his defenses against the charges. Additionally, we’ll be able to get at least some idea of what the report says by watching the reaction of five key Senators, Senators Flake, Collins, Murkowski, Manchin, and Heitkamp. If these Senators aren’t satisfied with what the expanded background check uncovers, or if they believe that the report was somehow incomplete, then they may end up voting against the nomination. If they are satisfied, then most or all of them will likely end up voting in favor of it.
Even before the Senate had received the report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was putting in motion the steps that will lead to a final vote on the nomination:
The Senate is set for a critical Friday vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, teeing up a final vote by the weekend, with an FBI report on the sexual misconduct allegations against the judge expected in the chamber by Thursday morning.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night set up the critical procedural vote for Friday, saying on the floor that the Senate “will receive” the results of the FBI’s time-limited inquiry into the claims against President Donald Trump’s high court pick in the coming hours.
Senators are expected to view that report from the FBI under restricted parameters throughout the day Thursday, with one copy of that report available for access in a secure facility in the Capitol basement. Members of both parties, as well as a handful of staff, are expected to alternate hour-long viewing time slots, a Democratic aide said.
If Friday’s expected procedural vote on the nomination is successful, a final vote on Kavanaugh could take place Saturday night at the earliest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is eager to install Kavanaugh onto the court quickly, given that its new term just began.
McConnell denied a request from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for an FBI briefing for all senators, calling it “unprecedented and irregular” and suggested Democrats would just use it as a pretext to delay the nomination. That means senators will be limited to the raw information of an updated FBI background investigation of Kavanaugh, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.
Grassley said earlier Wednesday that giving senators two days to view the document before they vote is “ample time.” Democrats, however, howled in consternation over constraints placed upon their access to the materials as well as on the abridged nature of the FBI inquiry — which appears to have delved only tangentially into Kavanaugh’s drinking habits and whether he may have misled senators about them during testimony last week.
GOP Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), asked for a one-week delay in the Kavanaugh nomination so the FBI could review the Ford and Ramirez allegations. GOP leaders agreed to that delay when it became clear that they could muster 50 votes to press forward with the nomination.
Flake said on Wednesday afternoon that he’s comfortable voting as long as he has the FBI report beforehand.
As noted above, the nomination’s fate essentially depends on what five Senators decide to do in the wake of the report. Except for these five, all Senate Republicans are on record as saying they would support the nomination and all Senate Democrats are on record opposing it. Taking the GOP’s 51-49 majority, this means that McConnell can at most afford to lose just one Republican without needing to rely on either Manchin or Heitkamp to vote in favor of the nomination to pull Kavanaugh across the line. It is unlikely that the background check will have uncovered anything groundbreaking with regard to any of the matters that were within the scope of its investigation, which apparently included the accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford and Debbie Ramirez, but not those made by Julie Swetnick. The investigation also apparently did not look into any allegations that may have rebutted Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony last Thursday regarding his drinking habits at either Georgetown Prep or Yale except to the extent they may have played a role in the Ford and Ramirez charges. Additionally, the Bureau apparently did not talk to either Ford or to Kavanaugh, instead apparently relying on their testimony last Thursday as a guide to the investigation without attempting to dig any further. As a result of this, it’s likely that many opponents of the Kavanaugh nomination will argue that the investigation was rushed and incomplete while supporters will argue that it was more than sufficiently thorough and that the Senate should proceed to a vote.
In any case, this process should come to some kind of an end by the end of this week. If I had to guess right now, I’d guess that all five uncommitted Senators will end up voting for the nomination, meaning that it will pass the Senate on an essentially party-line vote of 53-47.