President Donald Trump denied reports that his White House set limitations on the FBI's investigation into allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
Suggesting on Monday that the FBI would "essentially" have free reign in its investigation, Trump also said that he had set the scope based on the request by Senate Republicans."It wouldn't bother me at all," he added at a Rose Garden press conference, if federal agents interviewed all of the women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct and the judge himself.
"I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation, whatever that means according to the senators, and the Republicans, and the Republican majority," Trump told reporters Monday during a Rose Garden news conference. "The one thing I want is speed."
At one point, he acknowledged that "it is up to me" to set the probe's boundaries or remove its limitations, but added that "I'm instructing them as per what I feel the Senate wants."
"I'm guided by the Senate," Trump later said. "I want to make the Senate happy, because, ultimately, they're making the judgement."
The president's comments follow several reports, published over the weekend, that allege the White House has restricted the "limited" supplemental background check into Kavanaugh.
The New York Times reported that the probe could be finished as soon as Monday morning. The Times also said agents were directed by the White House and Senate Republicans to interview just four people: Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth, two high school friends of Kavanaugh's; Leland Keyser, a high school friend of one Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford; and Deborah Ramirez, another woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. The Times does not indicate that agents will be interviewing Ford, Kavanaugh's first accuser who testified before the Senate Judiciary panel about the allegations last Thursday.
Multiple reports also indicated that the White House has restricted agents from interviewing a third woman who's accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, in addition to prohibiting the bureau from interviewing several people who went to high school and college with the Supreme Court hopeful and have information related to the probe.
"I thought it was going to be an investigation," one unnamed Yale classmate told The New Yorker Sunday. "But instead it seems it's just an alibi for Republicans to vote for Kavanaugh."
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, asked on Friday for a one-week delay before the Senate holds a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination so that the F.B.I. could investigate allegations of sexual assault against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Flake's announcement came one day after Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused the Supreme Court nominee of attempted rape in the 1980s, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford told the panel that she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh had assaulted her; Kavanaugh said that he was "100 percent" certain that he did not do it.
The White House and Senate Republican leaders have limited the time of the investigation to one week, and eye a full Senate vote on the nomination as soon as the probe is complete, aiming for Kavanaugh to be confirmed and sworn in as a justice soon after the high court kicks off its new term Monday.
A number of high school and college classmates, as well as friends of Kavanaugh's and some of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, told The New Yorker that they have struggled to contact the F.B.I. with information related to the probe.
One woman, Elizabeth Rasor, a former girlfriend of Mark Judge, told the magazine through her attorney this week that she has "repeatedly made clear to the Senate Judiciary Committee and to the F.B.I. that she would like the opportunity to speak to them." Rasor's attorney, however, told the magazine they've "received no substantive response." Instead, Rasor's attorney said they have received emails from the bureau acknowledging that their emails have been "received." She also said one official told them to try calling an 800-number telephone tip line.
Rasor previously told the magazine that she was felt morally obligated to come forward and challenge Judge's description of his and Kavanaugh's high-school sex lives as innocent. She said that, "under normal circumstances, I wouldn't reveal information that was told in confidence," but, she said, "I can’t stand by and watch him lie." She recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with the same drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual. She said that Judge did not name others involved in the incident, and that she had no knowledge about whether Kavanaugh participated. (Barbara Van Gelder, Judge's attorney, told The New Yorker that Judge "categorically" denied the account related by Rasor, and Kavanaugh.)
Notably, Rasor's account sounds similar to that of Kavanaugh's third accuser, Julie Swetnick. In a sworn affidavit sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and posted on the Twitter account of her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and Judge drugged and gang-raped multiple women at parties during their high school years. She said she was one of them.
In addition, an unnamed Yale classmate told The New Yorker that he wanted to corroborate Ramirez's allegation that, at a party, Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his penis in her face against her wishes while they were both freshman at Yale University. The classmate told the magazine he then tried to contact the F.B.I., but, when he reached out to a bureau official in Washington, D.C., he was told the contact the F.B.I. field office nearest his home. There, he was referred to a recording. After several attempts to reach a live person at the field office, the classmate eventually contacted an agent who didn't know what he was talking about. The classmate then reached out to the Washington office, again, and was told to call the tip line. He eventually left a tip through an online portal, according to the magazine.
Another former classmate of Kavanaugh's, Chad Ludington, released a statement on Sunday that appears to contradict Kavanaugh's claims about his drinking habits, saying that he planned to take his account to the federal investigators.
"On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer," Ludington said. "When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man's face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail."
"I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth," Ludington added.
Kavanaugh has categorically denied all accusations against him, including claims that he often drank to excess or had memory lapses due to alcohol consumption. He insinuated during sworn testimony last week that he never abused alcohol, which he said is evidence that he could not have assaulted Ford, and forgot about it, when the two were teenagers.
On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Flake is a member, voted along party lines (11-10) to advance his nomination.
Before calling for the FBI investigation, the Arizona Senator announced that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh and defeated a motion supported by all Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to subpoena Mark Judge — the key witness surrounding Ford's allegations. (Ford has alleged that Judge was present when Kavanaugh attacked her.) Flake later walked back his decision to vote "yes" on Kavanaugh after he was confronted by women who claimed they were sexual assault survivors. The emotional exchange was captured on live television and seemingly shamed Flake to call for the probe.
During a Sunday interview on "60 Minutes" Flake admitted that he would not have called for the investigation if he were running for reelection.
"No, not a chance," Flake said when he asked if he would've made the same decision had he been vying to keep his Senate seat. "There's no value to reaching across the aisle, there's not currency for that anymore, there's no incentive."