FBI received 4,500 tips during Brett Kavanaugh confirmation; Blasey Ford attorneys call it 'a sham'
- In a letter, assistant FBI director Jill Tyson does not elaborate on the tip information substance.
- Attorneys for Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford called the FBI's work a "sham."
The FBI acknowledged receiving more than 4,500 tips during its background investigation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, prompting a new wave of criticism from Senate Democrats who have long questioned the bureau's vetting process.
Though the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by a narrow majority (50-48) three years ago, the process was defined by the emotional testimony of California university professor Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh's angry denials that he sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s.
In a June 30 letter made public by lawmakers Thursday, Assistant FBI Director Jill Tyson does not elaborate on the substance of the tip information.
Tyson, responding to inquiries from Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Chris Coons, D-Del., said Kavanaugh's nomination marked the first time that an FBI tip line had been established to receive information during a Senate confirmation inquiry.
“The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information highly relevant to ... allegations’ of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, only to be ignored,” Whitehouse and Coons said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray that was joined by five other Senate Democrats. “If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all.”
Seizing on the FBI's newly disclosed letter, Ford's attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, referred to the bureau's handling of the Kavanaugh inquiry as "a sham and major institutional failure."
"Not only did the FBI refuse to interview Dr. Ford or the corroborators listed in our letter to FBI Director Wray, it failed to act on the over 4,500 tips it received about then-nominee Kavanaugh," the attorneys said. "Instead, it handed the information over to the White House, allowing those who supported Kavanaugh to falsely claim that the FBI found no wrongdoing."
The FBI's Security Division, which handles background investigations for nominees, provided "all relevant tips" to the White House Counsel's Office, which had requested the review, Tyson said. The official's letter does not say how much was shared with the White House.
In the FBI letter, Tyson said the bureau's responsibilities in background investigations of nominees differ from its criminal investigative functions. In cases involving presidential nominees, the FBI gathers and provides information to the White House to assist officials in determining "suitability" for office.
"The FBI's function ... is purely fact finding," Tyson said. "The authorities, policies, and procedures relied on by the FBI to conduct (background investigations) are not the same as the authorities, policies, and procedures used to investigate criminal matters."
In its background investigative role, the FBI interviewed 49 people about Kavanaugh over five days before delivering the results July 18, 2018.
Two months later, after the public disclosure of the Blasey Ford allegations at the Senate Judiciary Committee sessions, the White House requested a supplemental – yet limited – inquiry. Over six days, the FBI interviewed an additional 10 people.
"Because the FBI was again acting in its role as (background investigator) and not as a criminal investigative entity, the authorities, policies, and procedures used to investigate criminal matters did not apply," Tyson wrote. "The FBI completed the limited inquiries on October 4, 2018, and provided the results to the requesting entity (the White House)."
Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Thursday that the review was "grossly mishandled."
"The Trump White House and Senate Republicans shamefully stifled an investigation to rush the process and guarantee their nominee a seat on the Supreme Court," Henderson said. "These unconscionable actions undermine the Senate’s constitutional role and continue to cast a shadow on the integrity of the court."