After multiple weekend reports that the White House was impeding the FBI’s review of sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it is hard to have confidence in President Donald Trump’s new statements that the FBI has free rein. Indeed, as of Tuesday afternoon, the FBI reportedly had not yet interviewed two of the three women making the allegations, Christine Blasey Ford, and Julie Swetnick. It also had not followed up on many witness leads, including ones that the third accuser, Deborah Ramirez, had provided. With the current one-week investigation clock running out on Friday, members of the Senate and the public must speak out now to demand a fair and full FBI inquiry—and transparency about whether we are getting one.
There are 30 witnesses who are known and who must, at a minimum, be included in any serious FBI inquiry of “current credible allegations against the nominee,” as requested by the Senate Judiciary Committee. We make that judgment as a former White House official (Eisen), a former counsel to congressional committees (Amerling) that reviewed the results of FBI background investigations, and a former FBI agent trained to conduct them (Rangappa).
First and foremost, the FBI must interview Ford and Kavanaugh. Ford’s allegations are the central basis for the supplemental background investigation, and Kavanaugh ought to have an opportunity to respond to this allegation and any questions the FBI has surrounding it. Although both individuals testified last Thursday before the Senate, this interview is an insufficient basis for the FBI to conduct a thorough investigation.
The questions asked by members of the committee were largely partisan in nature (on both sides) cut short by the 5-minute time limit, and often did not ask obvious follow-up questions to elucidate the testimony of both witnesses. In short, the Senate hearing was nothing like the kind of interview that the FBI would conduct, and without a comprehensive narrative from both Ford and Kavanaugh, the FBI does not have an adequate baseline against which to check facts and ask questions of other witnesses.
Next, according to Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh was intoxicated and sexually assaulted her in the summer of 1982 in the presence of his friend Mark Judge in the bedroom of a house where a small group of peers had gathered. While Judge’s lawyer has provided the Senate Judiciary Committee a brief written statement denying recollection of such conduct, Judge still may be able to provide other corroborating information on issues such as the date and place of the event, and purported party attendees. For the same reason, the two other attendees Ford recalled also should be interviewed. The witness list should therefore include not only Judge but also P.J. Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser.
Kavanaugh’s testimony provided additional leads. He confirmed that his 1982 calendar shows he attended a small gathering on July 1 that summer with Judge and Smyth, along with four other Georgetown Prep classmates: Chris Garrett, Tim Gaudette, Tom Kane, and Bernie McCarthy. They, too, should be interviewed given the overlap between people in this July 1 calendar entry and those at the party that Ford recalls. Garrett may be particularly relevant given Ford’s testimony that she briefly went out with him and that he was the connection between her friends and Kavanaugh’s friends.
To probe Ford’s credibility, the FBI should contact the individual who conducted Ford’s polygraph examination, and four others who, in written statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee, attested that she told them of the alleged assault by Kavanaugh before Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court: Jeremiah Hanafin, polygraph examiner; Russell Ford, Ford’s husband; and Rebecca White, Adela Gildo-Mazzon, and Keith Koegler, friends of Ford.
Additional witnesses are important in a review of the second assault allegation from Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed his genitals to her at a dorm party during their freshman year at Yale University and thrust them in her face. Based on reporting citing Yale classmates that both corroborate and dispute this account, the FBI should at minimum interview Ramirez and three other Yale undergraduate classmates of Kavanaugh: Richard Oh, Dan Murphy and Mark Krasburg. They will likely identify other witnesses, and it is standard FBI protocol to track them down and talk to them.
In a third and separate allegation, Swetnick claims that at several social gatherings in the early 1980s, she saw Kavanaugh drink heavily with Judge and that Kavanaugh engaged in a range of conduct that included “abusive and physically aggressive” behavior toward young women. Based on this account, and additional reports that Swetnick’s former boyfriend challenges her credibility, the FBI should interview Swetnick and Richard Vinneccy, her ex-boyfriend. If reports are correct that there are additional corroborating witnesses, they too must be located and interviewed by the FBI according to standard protocol in inquiries of this kind. On Tuesday night, Swetnick’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, released a new sworn statement from someone he says can confirm several of Swetnick’s claims. This person should also be identified and interviewed by the FBI.
The FBI should also contact Judge’s college girlfriend Elizabeth Rasor. According to news accounts, Judge told Rasor that in high school he had engaged in group sex with a drunk young woman, an incident resembling elements of Swetnick’s claim – though Rasor’s reported account does not indicate she made any claims about Kavanaugh’s conduct.
All three allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh involve claims that he was aggressive while under the influence of alcohol. Under oath, Kavanaugh categorially denied sexual misconduct and repeatedly downplayed his alcohol consumption. This means that his pattern of drinking —and whether his behavior was aggressive when intoxicated —is directly relevant to key underlying details of each allegation and must be explored. In addition, because Kavanaugh had a history of misleading statements even before these sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, his truthfulness regarding his alcohol use and behavior in high school and college are a key factor in weighing his credibility in denying these new claims.
In fact, in just the past few weeks, at least four of Kavanaugh’s Yale friends and acquaintances have questioned his credibility, including one who said Kavanaugh got belligerent when drinking and remembered him “throwing his beer in a man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.” Several other classmates, on the other hand, told reporters that they never saw him out of control. The FBI should follow up on these accounts with interviews of individuals including James Roche, Kavanaugh’s freshman year roommate, as well as five other Yale undergraduate classmates: Elizabeth Swisher, Lynne Brookes, Chad Ludington, Chris Dudley, and Dwayne Oxley.
Other challenges to Kavanaugh’s testimony on the sexual misconduct allegations also merit FBI scrutiny. Despite Kavanaugh’s sworn statement to the Senate that he first heard of the Ramirez allegations from the September 23 New Yorker article, Yale classmates reportedly heard from “Brett’s guy” and possibly Kavanaugh himself about Ramirez’s allegations before they became public and perhaps as early as July. To evaluate these accounts, the FBI should talk with individuals including Kerry Berchem and Karen Yarasavage, both Yale undergraduate classmates of Kavanaugh.
All told, our tally of the minimum essential FBI witnesses comes to 30 individuals. Even this number is likely not the outer limit because it is based on only a quick review of the public record, and in the normal course of a background check the FBI often gleans leads that require additional interviews. It is striking, however, that this starting point is over seven times the number of witnesses (four) the White House was reportedly allowing in total. More recent reports suggest the White House has permitted a broader inquiry, but lawyers for the alleged victims, including Ford and Swetnick, have made it clear that they have yet to hear from the FBI and the clock is running out.
Interviewing all of these people would bolster due process for Kavanaugh as it includes individuals who could exonerate him. It is also entirely consistent with the principles underlying background checks, which aim to provide decisionmakers a “whole person” review that gives a complete picture of the nominee.
While it is regrettable that the White House is imposing the rushed deadline of Friday for completing this inquiry, we believe it is nonetheless feasible for experienced FBI investigators to do at least the baseline investigation we describe within that timeframe. In other times of urgency, such as law-enforcement emergencies, the Bureau has been able to collect statements from greater numbers in an even shorter time because of its vast resources. Beyond illuminating Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court, a full, fair and transparent process here will reassure the Senate and the American public that the rule of law remains alive and well. That will restore some badly needed confidence to all concerned after the turbulence of the nomination process and the apparent initial effort of the White House to hamper the FBI in doing its important work.