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Trump says FBI has 'free rein' in Kavanaugh investigation, yet he's put strict limits on agents' work

Trump says FBI has 'free rein' in Kavanaugh investigation, yet he's put strict limits on agents' work
President Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday night in Wheeling, W.Va. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump claimed Saturday that the FBI would have "free rein" to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, yet strict limits have been put on the agency's reach in the one week it has to complete its work.

"I think it's going very well," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign rally in West Virginia. "The FBI, as you know, is all over talking to everybody."

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Again calling his nominee "a very high-quality person," the president said of the new investigation, "I would expect it will turn out very well."

Trump, under pressure from wavering senators whose votes will determine Kavanaugh's fate, on Friday ordered the FBI to update its previous background check to look into the allegations. But the the White House, in a statement, said "this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week."

The FBI began immediately, contacting attorneys for at least one of the three accusers, Deborah Ramirez, that night to set up an interview. Days earlier the New Yorker reported that Ramirez told it that Kavanaugh, when they were freshmen at Yale University 35 years ago, exposed himself and thrust his genitals in her face without her consent during a party.

The FBI is also examining the first and most prominent allegation, by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, that he assaulted her at a social gathering when he was 17 and she was 15.

According to media reports Saturday, however, the White House is not permitting the FBI to pursue the allegation of the third accuser, Julie Swetnick, who said Kavanaugh was present at a party where she was gang-raped when they were teenagers.

Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti, complained on Twitter that Trump was usurping the FBI's role and that he and Kavanaugh "are afraid of the truth."

Also, the agency reportedly cannot seek employment records from a Safeway supermarket in suburban Maryland for Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge, whom Ford says witnessed and helped in assaulting her. Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that such records could provide evidence to corroborate her account, helping to establish the time period.

A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, declined to confirm that the FBI was working under such restrictions, and said the Senate was setting the parameters of the inquiry.

Trump told reporters that he hoped the FBI would investigate who leaked the letter Ford wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in July detailing her allegation. He suggested the leaker was Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which is considering Kavanaugh's nomination.

"Was it Sen. Feinstein?" Trump asked. "Certainly, her body language was not exactly very good when they asked her that question. I would like to find out as part of it who leaked the papers. Which Democrat leaked the papers?"

Feinstein has adamantly denied leaking the letter, saying she had been honoring Ford's request for confidentiality since July. Several Republicans on the committee say they believe her. The disclosure of the allegation earlier this month prompted Ford to go public with her story, causing the delay in Kavanaugh's confirmation vote and raising new doubts about his likelihood of joining the nation's highest court.

Kavanaugh, Trump and some Senate Republicans have accused Democrats of orchestrating a last-minute smear campaign, with the two subsequent allegations a part of that.

Trump has been eager for the Senate to confirm Kavanaugh and frustrated by what he has called obstruction by Democrats. But the president was forced to allow the FBI investigation that Democrats and a few Republicans had been calling for when a swing-vote Republican, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, suggested that he otherwise might not vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Two undecided Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, supported Flake.

The president had little choice but to reverse his opposition to an FBI inquiry given the Republicans' narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. With nearly all Democrats and the two independent senators expected to vote against Kavanaugh, Republicans must hold their side together.

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Despite his apparent behind-the-scene directives to the FBI to limit the investigation's scope, the president suggested the opposite in his comments to reporters.

"They have free rein; they can do whatever they have to do, whatever it is that they do," he said.

"They'll be doing things we have never even thought of," he said. "And hopefully at the conclusion everything will be fine."

Trump refrained from attacking Flake, who has been a persistent critic of the president and in turn his frequent target, which contributed to Flake's unpopularity among Arizona Republicans and his decision not to seek reelection.

"Well, I think he's fine," Trump said of Flake. "Actually this could be a blessing in disguise, having the FBI go out and do a thorough investigation, whether its three days or seven days. I think its going to be less than a week."

Trump said he did not need a backup plan in case Kavanaugh's nomination falters, insisting everything would turn out fine.

During a rally in West Virginia on Saturday night to support Republican Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey, Trump portrayed Kavanaugh as a victim of Democratic obstruction.

"They're determined to take back power by any means necessary," Trump said. "They don't care who they hurt, who they have to run over, in order to get power and control."

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