New reporting details how FBI limited investigation of Kavanaugh allegations
As Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh prepares for his second year on the Supreme Court, new reporting has detailed how the limits ordered by the White House and Senate Republicans last year constrained the FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a college freshman.
The FBI was informed of allegations that Kavanaugh, while drunk during his freshman year at Yale, exposed himself to two heavily intoxicated female classmates on separate occasions. The bureau did not interview more than a dozen people who said they could provide information about the incidents.
One of the accounts, reported by Deborah Ramirez, was made public at the time of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. The other, not publicly known until this weekend, was reported by a male classmate who said he witnessed the incident. He unsuccessfully sought to get the FBI to investigate with help from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who asked FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to look into the allegation.
The new details are based on interviews conducted by this reporter and two reporters for the New York Times for books about the confirmation. The New York Times reported some details late Saturday from its reporters’ new book.
Wray has declined requests by this reporter to be interviewed about the bureau’s performance. Kavanaugh also declined to be interviewed.
The best-known allegation against Kavanaugh was the accusation by Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor from California, that he assaulted her when they were high school students. Kavanaugh heatedly denied her allegation when he and Ford testified before the Judiciary Committee in a televised hearing.
The committee’s Republican majority declined to give a public hearing to Ramirez, and it is unclear how many senators knew of the allegation of a second, similar incident at Yale. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and its senior Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, were both informed of the existence of the allegation.
Ramirez alleged that Kavanaugh exposed his penis and caused her to touch it while they were both inebriated during a drinking game in a dormitory suite in late 1983 or early 1984. Kavanaugh denied her allegation.
The other allegation, previously unreported, came from Washington lawyer Max Stier, who told Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) that he witnessed Kavanaugh exposing himself to a different female classmate during their freshman year.
Both Kavanaugh and the woman were heavily intoxicated at the time, according to Stier’s account, as described by people familiar with the contacts between him and Coons and others who have spoken with Stier since Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
The woman in that case, a friend of Ramirez, has denied that she was assaulted, telling friends she has no memory of such an incident. According to Stier’s account, the woman was so inebriated at the time that she could easily have no memory of it.
Coons sent Wray a letter on Oct. 2 — four days before the Senate voted on Kavanaugh — naming Stier as an “individual whom I would like to specifically refer to you for appropriate follow up.”
The FBI never contacted Stier. The bureau also did not interview other classmates who said they had heard at the time of either the incident Stier reported or the one involving Ramirez.
Stier has declined to comment publicly on the allegation. He wanted his account to remain confidential, both for the sake of the woman, a widow with three children, and for his own professional considerations.
Stier founded a nonpartisan, nonprofit group to promote public service roughly two decades ago. Before that, he was a lawyer at Washington’s Williams & Connolly firm, where he worked with the team that defended then-President Clinton. Several Republican commentators on Sunday zeroed in on that part of his resume to discredit his account as partisan.
During the hearings, Kavanaugh stated under oath that he was never so drunk that he would pass out or forget what he’d done while intoxicated. A number of former classmates who knew him said they were sufficiently upset by that statement, which they considered untruthful, that they contacted the FBI. None received responses from the bureau.
On Sunday, President Trump defended Kavanaugh.
Trump called on the Justice Department to “come to [Kavanaugh’s] rescue,” suggesting on Twitter that the administration’s opponents were trying to deter the justice from rulings favorable to the administration.
“They are trying to influence his opinions. Can’t let that happen!” he wrote.
“He is an innocent man who has been treated HORRIBLY,” Trump wrote in one tweet. In another, he urged that the justice sue for “liable,” later correcting the spelling to “libel.”
The new reports reopened some of the bitter, partisan divisions that accompanied Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment, including Sen. Kamala Harris, a Judiciary committee member, who wrote on Twitter that “Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke made similar calls.
Warren tweeted that the new allegations were “disturbing,” adding, “Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he supported using “any appropriate constitutional mechanism” against Kavanaugh.
At the time that Coons reported Stier’s allegation to the FBI director, the White House and Senate Republican leaders had directed the bureau to reopen Kavanaugh’s background check. They acted under pressure from three undecided Republican senators who wanted an investigation of the allegations made by Ford and Ramirez.
The Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority gave the FBI a week and said agents could interview four people. The list was later expanded to 10 people at the insistence of the swing-vote senators.
Lawyers for Ford and Ramirez, however, sent letters to Wray that, together, named more than 50 individuals that the bureau’s agents should interview. Only nine were ever contacted — all of them from the list that the Republicans had submitted.
One of the letters named the woman in the incident Stier said he witnessed.
“We have been advised that while at Yale, Mr. Kavanaugh exposed himself” to the woman “and forced her to touch his penis. Witnesses were present and we have been advised that they will be contacting the FBI with their first-hand accounts,” the letter said.
Stier knew both Kavanaugh and the young woman and has told people that he is certain of their identities. According to his account, two drunken male students dragged the woman toward Kavanaugh, who was also intoxicated and standing with his penis exposed, amid much laughter from the men.
The FBI’s reopened background check, which began late on Friday, Sept. 28, lasted less than a week. The following Saturday, Oct. 6, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by a largely party-line vote of 50 to 48, the narrowest margin of support for a new justice since 1881.
Times staff writer Laura King contributed to this article.
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