Talk about perfect timing. During a hearing on the FBI’s mishandling of allegations against Larry Nassar, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse raised questions about whether the Nassar investigation was the only FBI case that was bungled. Whitehouse used the investigation of former USA Gymnastics team doctor and convicted pedophile Nassar to question the legitimacy of the FBI’s 2018 background check into Brett Kavanaugh, wondering if that investigation might have been “just as flawed.”
“It strikes me very strongly as we sit here today, and as we heard the powerful testimony earlier this morning, that the last time a woman came forward in this committee to testify to her allegations of sexual assault in her childhood, the witness was Christine Blasey Ford,” Whitehouse said.
“It appeared to me then, and it appears to me now that her testimony was swept under the rug in a confirmation stampede,” he added. “It is very possible that the FBI investigation of her allegations was just as flawed, just as constrained, just as inappropriate, as the investigation in this case.”
Whitehouse demanded answers regarding the non-investigation of then-Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh and called out FBI Director Christopher Wray over the bureau’s investigation of Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Whitehouse noted that he repeatedly requested more information about the FBI’s investigation into Ford’s allegations but had been ignored for two years before finally receiving a response yesterday.
“Not coincidentally, I suspect, on the eve of your appearance today,” Whitehouse said to Wray.
During the testimony against Nassar, Wray said that he felt “heartsick and furious” once he learned of the agency’s failures toward pursuing justice. However, he didn’t acknowledge the fault he or the agency as a whole had in the botched investigation and blamed individuals who “betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people.” But he did vow to “make damn sure that everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.”
Whitehouse took this as an opportunity to raise questions about Kavanaugh.
“Let’s just make sure there’s wasn’t also a botched handling of another allegation in this committee with regard to Dr. Ford,” Whitehouse said after questioning the legitimacy of investigations in the case.
But Whitehouse was not the only one. Other lawmakers also questioned Wray over the bureau’s handling of the Kavanaugh probe, including the claim that the FBI lacked the authority to conduct a deeper background investigation into the then-nominee.
Kavanaugh was confirmed to his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court in October 2018 by a vote of 50-48, helping secure a conservative majority on the bench.
According to The Guardian, the bureau claimed that a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding prevented it from performing a deeper investigation into allegations of misconduct. According to a letter to Whitehouse and Sen. Chris Coons at the time, the FBI said that it did not have the authority under the MOU to “unilaterally conduct further investigative activity absent instructions from the requesting entity.” It claimed special instructions were needed from then-president Donald Trump under 2010 guidelines on how such investigations could be conducted.
But despite this, Whitehouse has stood his ground and even told The Guardian he would not stop asking questions until the director answers them.
“In its years-late response to our questions, the FBI leaned hard on the notion that this MOU limited its authority to be the FBI and investigate wrongdoing. Now that we have the MOU, it’s even harder to understand the Bureau’s excuses for ignoring credible information it received. Director Wray ought to be ready to answer my questions about this episode – I won’t stop asking until he does.”
Whitehouse made a promise to Ford in 2018 following Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation to pursue the thorough investigation of her sexual assault allegations. He said he would do “whatever’s in my power to make sure your claims get a full and proper investigation.” Whitehouse was suspicious that the tip line set up for information about Kavanaugh’s background was “not for real.” After issues found in Nassar’s investigation, his suspicions grew stronger.
“This wasn’t a tip line — this was a tip dump,” Whitehouse told the Boston Globe in July. “It was a garbage chute from the tip line to the White House counsel’s office, where they had no interest in conducting an investigation.”
“For those of us in the Senate, it raises questions about the trustworthiness of FBI background investigations for nominees. If this is going to turn into a situation where the FBI can tank a background investigation by sending derogatory information to the White House and Congress never finds out, that is a poor setup for Senate trust.”
Whitehouse added that the issue is still relevant three years after Kavanaugh’s confirmation because that’s how long it took for the FBI to respond to his questions. “It’s not my fault — it’s their fault,” he said. “This should have come out immediately.”
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