Saturday 20 April 2019

'The White House isn't intervening' - senior Trump officials say they won't be 'micromanaging' Kavanaugh probe

Investigation: Brett Kavanaugh is being probed by the FBI. Photo: Reuters
Investigation: Brett Kavanaugh is being probed by the FBI. Photo: Reuters

Darlene Superville and Michael Balsamo

Senior Trump administration officials have insisted the White House is not "micromanaging" a new FBI background check of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and that senators are dictating the parameters of the investigation.

President Donald Trump initially opposed such an investigation in the face of sexual misconduct claims against Kavanaugh, but the president and Senate Republican leaders agreed to an inquiry after Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made clear he would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh without one.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said oversight of the investigation belonged to the Senate.

"The White House counsel has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like and what the scope of the investigation is," she said. "The White House isn't intervening. We're not micromanaging this process. It's a Senate process. It has been from the beginning, and we're letting the Senate continue to dictate what the terms look like."

White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said the investigation will be "limited in scope" and "will not be a fishing expedition. The FBI is not tasked to do that."

Yet the precise scope of the investigation remained unclear.

Mr Trump told reporters "the FBI, as you know, is all over talking to everybody" and said "this could be a blessing in disguise".

"They have free rein," he added. "They're going to do whatever they have to do, whatever it is they do. They'll be doing things that we have never even thought of.

Ford. Photo: Reuters
Ford. Photo: Reuters

"And hopefully at the conclusion everything will be fine."

The president revisited the question of "scope" on Twitter, writing in part: "I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion."

Ms Sanders said Mr Trump, who has vigorously defended Kavanaugh but also raised the slight possibility of withdrawing the nomination should damaging information be found, "will listen to the facts" of the FBI investigation.

But she expressed confidence that no new information will be uncovered, noting the allegations did not surface during the judge's six prior background checks for positions in the executive and judicial branches of government.

"I think we're all pretty confident, given that we've been through this process a number of times, but we would assess that at that point," Ms Sanders said.

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At least three women have accused Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, of years-ago misconduct. He denies all the claims.

The lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were students at Yale classmates, has agreed to cooperate with the FBI.

Ms Ramirez alleged Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in the early 1980s.

A third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and his high school friend Mark Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations.

Kavanaugh has called her accusations a "joke" and Judge said he "categorically" denies the allegations.

Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti, said his client had not been contacted by the FBI but was willing to cooperate with investigators.

Judge, who California professor Christine Blasey Ford says was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, said he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against them.

He has also denied misconduct allegations.

Lawyers for PJ Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, two others who Ms Ford said were in the house when she was attacked, have said their clients are willing to cooperate "fully" with the FBI.

An attorney for Ms Keyser reaffirmed her previous statement that she does not know Kavanaugh and has no recollection of ever being at a gathering or party where he was present, the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement.

Calls for an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh mounted after Ms Ford alleged he sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied being the perpetrator.

In duelling appearances on Thursday, he and Ms Ford told their stories during sworn testimony before the Senate Committee.

The panel voted on Friday, along party lines, to send the nomination to the full Senate, and Mr Flake then offered his proposal for the FBI investigation.

Mr Trump ordered the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh's background investigation, delaying a final vote on the nomination.

The committee has said the probe should be limited to "current credible allegations" against Kavanaugh and be finished by Friday.

The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations.

The investigators will compile information about Kavanaugh's past and provide their findings to the White House and include the information in Kavanaugh's background file, which is available to senators.

Ms Sanders spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and Ms Conway appeared on CNN's "State of the Union".

Press Association

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