What is the FBI’s role in the Kavanaugh allegations?
WASHINGTON — A woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a long-ago sexual assault wants the FBI to get involved — but the request is not so simple.
Only the White House can order the FBI to look into the claim as part of Kavanaugh’s background investigation, since Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor from California, is not accusing Kavanaugh of a federal crime.
Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed and tried taking off her clothes during a high school party in Maryland in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denies the allegations, which appear to describe misdemeanors that would be beyond the statute of limitations under Maryland law.
The FBI could interview Ford, Kavanaugh and others about the allegation if Trump asked the bureau to reopen its background investigation. But Trump already has rejected that idea, saying the FBI has already done its work.
Here’s a look at how the FBI plays into the case:
WHAT IS THE FBI’S ROLE?
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations, according to a Justice Department statement Monday night. Instead, the department compiles information about the nominee’s past and provides its findings to the agency that requested the background check. In this case, that would be the White House.
There has been no suggestion that Kavanaugh may have committed a federal crime, so the FBI would not conduct a criminal investigation. But Senate Democrats are pushing for the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh’s background investigation.
President Donald Trump pushed back on this later in the day.
“I don’t think FBI really should be involved because they don’t want to be involved. If they wanted to be, I would certainly do that,” the president said. “But as you know, they say this is not really their thing.”
Greg Rinckey, a lawyer specializing in employment law and the security clearance process, said FBI background checks aren’t meant to dig up decades-old claims that never resulted in a police report or criminal charges.
“That’s not really what the FBI is looking for,” Rinckey said. “The FBI is looking for any kind of current problem. What do I mean by current? Seven to 10 years.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told CNN that an additional FBI investigation “would be done” if the current committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, asked for it.
“If the chairman called the FBI and said, ‘we have this question about a nominee. Would you look into it?’ of course they do,” Leahy said.
Grassley rejected that idea Wednesday, saying that “no other outside investigation is necessary.”
The FBI did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about whether the agency would investigate if the Judiciary Committee asked for a further query.
COULD KAVANAUGH FACE STATE CHARGES?
Whatever the FBI does, the prospect of criminal charges being filed against Kavanaugh appear very unlikely, legal experts say. If a crime had taken place, it would almost certainly fall under local jurisdiction, not federal. That means it would fall under the laws of Montgomery County, Maryland, where the statute of limitations would seem to preclude charges.
Ford’s allegations appear to be misdemeanors that would be beyond the statute of limitations under Maryland law, said Randolph Rice, a Baltimore-based attorney who specializes in sex crimes.
WHAT ABOUT ANITA HILL?
Nearly 30 years ago, Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her, charging that he made unwanted advancements and inappropriate comments. Thomas denied the allegations.
Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, alleging that Thomas had discussed pornography and graphically described his “own sexual prowess.”
The FBI investigated Hill’s accusations because under Republican President George H.W. Bush, the White House asked the agency to add to Thomas’ background check.
Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, told ABC News that senators should halt the Kavanaugh hearing to avoid a “sham” proceeding and the FBI should investigate Ford’s allegations.