Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock Brett Kavanaugh
The FBI is facing criticism for its handling of a background investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after the agency disclosed that it received more than 4,500 tips in relation to the 2018 inquiry.
The agency says it provided any "relevant" tips to the Trump administration's White House counsel.
Kavanaugh, 56, ignited controversy in 2018 after former President Donald Trump announced his nomination to the high court, days after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in what was widely viewed as a surprise.
Shortly after his nomination, Kavanaugh — a former federal appeals court judge —was faced with allegations that he sexually assaulted a former classmate while in high school.
Speaking to Fox News after the allegations became public, Kavanaugh denied Ford's claims.
"The truth is I've never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone," he said.
Ford — a research psychologist and professor at Palo Alto University — later testified under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee about allegedly being sexually assaulted by the then Supreme Court nominee when she was 15 and he was 17.
"He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me," Ford said in the testimony. "I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me, and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy."
Other allegations against Kavanaugh, including that he had been a heavy drinker in college, were also made by former classmates throughout his nomination process.
The FBI began a week-long investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh — all of which the judge has denied — after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona dramatically asked Senate leadership to delay the full vote on his nomination for an FBI probe.
Though Democrats have long maintained that the findings of the investigation were unclear, Republicans argued they vindicated the judge, and the Senate ultimately confirmed Kavanaugh's nomination in a narrow 50-48 vote.
Now, two years later, a letter from the FBI to Democratic senators Chris Coons and Sheldon Whitehouse reveals at least some of what its background investigation into Kavanaugh yielded.
The June 30 letter, released Thursday, noted that the FBI set up a tip line in order to centralize information related to Kavanaugh. According to the agency, "the FBI received over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions," as a result. Those tips, it added, were sent to the Trump White House — even though Trump had nominated Kavanaugh in the first place.
The letter further details that the FBI was asked by the Office of White House Counsel to conduct a supplemental background investigation as well as "limited inquiries" into Kavanaugh in September 2018. "Over the course of six days, as part of several limited inquiries, the FBI interviewed ten individuals," FBI Assistant Director Jill Tyson wrote in its letter, adding that an additional 49 people were interviewed during the FBI's background investigation into Kavanaugh.
As these new details have emerged, Democrats have harshly criticized the FBI over its handling of the Kavanaugh inquiries. In a tweet, Whitehouse said the "long-delayed" letter "confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing."
Whitehouse, 65, added in another tweet that the agency had been "misleading as hell" in claiming that it followed proper procedures.
"I charged that the 'tip line' was really a tip dump, with all the tips going straight into the dumpster without investigation," Whitehouse wrote. "In fact it was a tip dump where all the tips went straight to White House Counsel without investigation. Same difference."
.@DebraKatzKMB and @LisaBanksKMB, attorneys for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, statement in response to the DOJ’s letter to Senators Whitehouse and Coons about the FBI’s investigation into Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. pic.twitter.com/mfIcVeShPs
— Kendra Barkoff Lamy (@kabarkoff) July 22, 2021
In a statement shared to Twitter, Ford's attorneys said that the FBI should have referred any tips to the Criminal Investigation Division rather than the Trump White House.
"Because the FBI and Trump's White House Counsel hid the ball on this, we do not know how many of those 4,500 tips were consequential, how many of those tips supported Dr. Ford's testimony, or how many showed that Kavanaugh perjured himself during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee," the attorney said in the statement. "Our nation deserved better."