Following Senator Jeff Flake’s dramatic call for a week-long FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the entire nation speculated as to what shape that investigation might take. Who should the FBI talk to? How would the logistics work? How easy would it be to buy a calendar from 1982 on eBay? On Saturday, NBC News gave us our first glimpse at the answer: The FBI seems to be taking a fast-moving, fluid approach to the case, in the sense that their investigation will assume the shape of whatever bullshit-shaped container Donald Trump pours it into.
According to multiple sources, the White House has given the bureau a list of witnesses it is permitted to interview and topics it is permitted to ask about. Christine Blasey Ford and Debbie Ramirez’s allegations will be investigated; Julie Swetnick’s will not. What’s more, the FBI will not be investigating Kavanaugh’s college drinking or the way he described it in his testimony, despite the fact that his Yale classmates are coming out of the woodwork to tell the country that he was a “sloppy drunk” who is lying about his past. Kavanaugh has categorically denied all of the sexual assault allegations, and has also testified under oath that the phrase “Beach Week Ralph Club—Biggest Contributor” in his high school yearbook referred to his difficulties with spicy food.
The White House’s constraints on the investigation will have real consequences when it comes to the legitimacy of whatever information it digs up. For example, while the FBI will question Mark Judge, who Christine Blasey Ford alleges was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her, they won’t be allowed to seek corroborating evidence like Judge’s employment records. (Ford recalled running into Judge at his job at Safeway after the assault; determining when he was working there might help put a date on the party she describes.) It’s also unclear what recourse would be open to investigators if one of the witnesses they are allowed to interview gives them a promising lead to follow up on. This sounds very different from the investigation GOP senators initially described:
It also sounds very different from the investigation Donald Trump described on Saturday, about an hour after the NBC story broke:
The FBI referred questions about the investigation to the White House, where spokesperson Raj Shah denied micromanaging the investigation, telling NBC News that “the scope and duration has been set by the Senate.” This is true, in the sense that the Senate said that the investigation must “be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today,” but doesn’t square with the White House apparently making the unilateral determination that Swetnick’s claims were not credible. It also doesn’t square with their decision that “allegations against the nominee” refers only to sexual assault, and not allegations that Beach Week Ralph Club’s biggest contributor might have perjured himself on national television as to the exact nature of his contributions to the Beach Week Ralph Club. It’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but it’s beginning to look like Jeff Flake might have been wrong to trust Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell to do the right thing!