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FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 08/04/22. One of the most interesting moments in the hearing, especially for Supreme Court enthusiasts like Yours Truly, came during the questioning by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI). Senator Whitehouse’s questions focused on the supplemental background investigation (B.I.), the FBI conducted on then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a topic that has been the subject of much speculation on social media.
Senator Whitehouse has been in a battle with FBI Director Wray since 2019, trying to get to the bottom of whether the FBI thoroughly investigated the numerous tips it received from the public regarding then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
This intro by Senator Whitehouse is important for establishing the context for the ensuing questioning: “As you know, we are now entering the fourth year of a frustrating saga that began with an August 2019 letter from me and Senator Coons, regarding the Kavanaugh supplemental background investigation, and I’d like to try to get that matter wrapped up.”
Senator Whitehouse(video at 0:23): “First, is it true that after [Justice] Kavanaugh-related tips were separated from the regular tip line traffic, they were forwarded to White House counsel without investigation?”
Director Wray(0:47): “When it comes to the tip line, we wanted to make sure that the White House had all the information we have, so when the hundreds of calls started coming in, we gathered those up, reviewed them, and provided them to the White House.”
At that point Senator Whitehouse interjected, “Without investigation”, to which Director Wray responded, “We reviewed them and then provided them to the White House.”
Sen. Whitehouse:“You reviewed them for the purposes of separating them from the tip line traffic, but did not further investigate the ones that related to Kavanaugh, correct?”
Senator Whitehouse: “Is it also true that in that supplemental B.I., the FBI took directions from the White House as to whom the FBI would question, and even what questions the FBI could ask?”
Director Wray:“It is true that consistent with the longstanding process that we have had going all the way back to at least the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and continue to follow currently under the Biden administration, that in a limited supplemental B.I., we take direction from the requesting entity which in this case, was the White House, as to what follow up they want. That’s the direction we followed, that’s the direction we’ve consistently followed throughout the decades, frankly.”
Director Wray went on to add, “It is true as to the ‘who’, I’m not sure as I sit here, whether it’s also true as to the ‘what questions’, but it is true as to the ‘who’ we interviewed.” In other words Director Wray agreed that in a supplemental B.I., it is true that the White House tells the FBI who to question, he’s just not sure yet, whether the White House also tells the FBI what questions to ask the people they question.
Senator Whitehouse:“By the way, is it true that even today we have not been provided by the FBI, it’s written tip line procedures?”
Director Wray: “Senator, I know that we have provided a lot of information to the committee and to you. I would have to check on that specific item. I know there is some information that you have requested that is not our call to provide, that has to do with interaction, communication with the White House.”
There’s no other way to interpret Director Wray’s responses to Senator Whitehouse’s questions other than (I’ll be happy to stand corrected of course), during the highly contentious Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the complaints the FBI received through its tip line regarding Kavanaugh, were not investigated by the FBI, but instead, forwarded to the White House Counsel. The White House Counsel then told the FBI who among the complainants, the FBI was to question, and possibly, even what questions to ask them.
Folks, no reasonable person presented with this information can ever conclude that the supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh was “thorough”, as had been portrayed by Senate Republicans during his confirmation hearings. Director Wray argues that this is the same supplemental B.I. process the FBI has used for decades, but as we all know, none of Kavanaugh’s predecessors faced as many serious complaints about their character, requiring a thorough independent investigation. So, while Director Wray raises a valid point regarding consistent FBI practice, reasonable people will agree that Kavanaugh’s case was markedly different, and called for a thorough investigation by the FBI.
Bottom line folks, we’ll wait for Senator Whitehouse’s final report on this issue. As he indicated to Director Wray, he’ll give the FBI one more month to comply with his information requests, after which he will produce a final report on the Kavanaugh supplemental B.I. saga. One only hopes that if Senator Whitehouse’s investigation reveals that there were serious credible allegations against Kavanaugh that went uninvestigated, then an independent investigation will be launched into them immediately.
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