As FBI check of Kavanaugh nears its end, probe appears to have been highly curtailed

Christine Blasey Ford, center, flanked by attorneys Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27.
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)
Washington Post

The FBI background check of Brett Kavanaugh appeared to remain curtailed in its scope Wednesday even as agents neared the end of their work, opening up the possibility that the bureau would again face criticism over what some will view as a lackluster investigation.

Though complete details of the FBI’s findings had yet to be released Wednesday evening, the bureau’s inquiry seems to have focused mostly on an allegation by a California professor who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her decades ago at a party in Maryland, when both were high school students.

The Washington Post has been able to confirm interviews with only six witnesses, five of whom have a connection to the professor or her allegation.


The investigation was always unlikely to answer definitively whether Kavanaugh was guilty of sexual misconduct decades ago. But the probe’s limited scope -- which was dictated by the White House, along with a Friday deadline -- is likely to exacerbate the partisan tensions surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Even before the probe had concluded, several people who claimed to have information that could be useful said they ended up mired in bureaucracy when they tried to get in touch with the FBI. Democrats also cried foul over what they saw as inappropriate parameters the White House seemed to be imposing on the bureau.

The White House and the FBI have treated each other warily throughout the process, people familiar with the matter said. Both sides were mindful that their written communications might one day be subject to subpoena, particularly if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in next month’s midterm elections, the people said.

President Trump has insisted publicly he was not curtailing the FBI probe. But privately, the White House restricted the FBI from delving deeply into Kavanaugh’s youthful drinking and exploring whether he had lied to Congress about his alcohol use, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

Some of those involved in the case complained that the bureau did not follow leads that were offered to it.

The FBI, for example, interviewed Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing his penis to her at a gathering when both were college students at Yale, and Ramirez’s team provided agents with more than 20 people who might have information relevant to her claims. But as of Wednesday, Ramirez’s team had no indication that the bureau had interviewed any of them.

The FBI also did not interview Christine Blasey Ford, her legal team said. Ford is the California professor whose public testimony about a high school gathering at which she said Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed and groped her helped spark the background check in the first place. The legal team said Ford was willing to turn over to the bureau notes from therapy sessions in which she described the assault.

Instead, the bureau interviewed three people who Ford said attended the party: Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth and Leland Kyser. The FBI also talked to two other friends of Kavanaugh’s who were listed as attending a gathering during the same summer that Ford alleged she was assaulted: Chris Garrett, who went out with Ford for a time, and Tim Gaudette.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that agents also had apparently not talked to Kavanaugh himself.

“The White House confirmation that it will not allow the FBI to interview Dr. Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh or witnesses identified by Deborah Ramirez raises serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation,” she said in a statement.

The FBI similarly had not -- at least as of Wednesday -- interviewed Julie Swetnick, who said in a declaration that Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and was present at a house party in 1982 where she says she was the victim of a “gang” rape. But the bureau did ask Judge, who was named in the affidavit, about her claims.

It is not abnormal in background checks for the White House to tell the bureau what to do. Background checks, unlike criminal investigations, are done for the benefit of the White House so that officials might have more information on people it wants to nominate for crucial government jobs.

The background check for Kavanaugh, though, was anything but ordinary. Witness interviews were disclosed in near real time, along with complaints that the bureau was not doing enough. The high-profile nature of the matter spurred many who felt they had information to offer the FBI to reach out proactively.

Richard Oh, an emergency room physician who lived in Kavanaugh’s first-year residence hall, said he contacted the FBI office in Denver to describe overhearing someone tearfully telling another student about an incident when Kavanaugh was a student at Yale. The incident, which Oh described to the New Yorker, involved a fake penis and a male student exposing himself.

Oh said he was put on hold and waited so long that he eventually submitted information through the FBI website.

“So far I haven’t heard back,” Oh said Tuesday. Wednesday night, he said that was still the case.

Lawyer Alan Abramson said he represented a friend of Ramirez’s who was hoping to share an account of a conversation the two had in the early 1990s about an incident in her freshman year. The friend, Abramson said, was among those whose names Ramirez’s lawyer had passed to the FBI.

Abramson said that when the friend, whom he declined to identify, did not hear from the bureau, he called a supervisor, who referred him to a field office, which said it would pass his information on.

“I have not heard from them yet, but I am hopeful that they will still contact me,” Abramson said in an email to the Washington Post.

Kerry Berchem, who attended Yale a year after Kavanaugh, said she contacted the FBI about text messages she received from a close friend of Kavanaugh’s -- messages that she believes suggest Kavanaugh or his friends might have been trying to preemptively rebut negative stories that could surface during his confirmation process. She said she was never interviewed, and she vented her frustrations in an email to an agent.

“I’m simply trying to have relevant investigators ask the right questions,” Berchem said in an interview with the Washington Post. “If there was an anticipatory narrative to discredit or conceal the Ramirez allegations in July or September, then the Senate should know about it and take that into account.”

The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.