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FBI director defends Kavanaugh investigation, says it followed 'usual process'

Del Quentin Wilber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress Wednesday that a controversial FBI background investigation into sexual assault allegations involving Brett Kavanaugh before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court was handled in a way "consistent" with other such probes.

"My folks have assured me that the usual process was followed," Wray testified to the Senate Homeland Security Committee in response to questions by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) about the White House's involvement in the process.

Wray declined to address whether the FBI investigated accusations that Kavanaugh lied during his Senate confirmation hearings, as Democrats have alleged.

When Harris pressed Wray as to why the FBI did not interview Kavanaugh, his chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, or 40 other potential witnesses, the FBI director said the investigation was "very specific in scope, limited in scope, and that is the usual process."

Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified at a hearing focusing on threats, including terrorism and interference in elections, facing the country.

"Our nation continues to face a multitude of serious and evolving threats ranging from homegrown violent extremists to cyber criminals to hostile foreign intelligence services and operatives. Keeping pace with these threats is a significant challenge for the FBI," Wray said in his opening statement.

It was Wray's first public appearance since the FBI wrapped up a hasty background probe last week after three women had publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse, sparking a bitter political battle over his nomination.

The full Senate confirmed Kavanaugh, a former top appeals court judge, to the high court Saturday by a historically narrow 50-48 margin.

Democrats have decried the Kavanaugh inquiry for being insufficient and improperly constricted by the White House. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the investigation "a sham."

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Republicans have defended the supplemental FBI probe, saying it was extensive and did not uncover any new corroborating evidence supporting allegations of sexual misconduct. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who was seen as a key swing vote, said "there was a lack of corroborating evidence no matter where you looked."

Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house gathering in the Maryland suburbs when she was a 15-year-old high school student in the early 1980s. Now a California professor, Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27 about the alleged assault but conceded she could not remember key details.

Testifying later at the same hearing, Kavanaugh, 53, fiercely denied the accusations. The next day, the FBI launched a limited probe into the matter after Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, suggested he would not vote to confirm the judge unless the bureau conducted such an investigation.

The nomination was put on hold for a week while the FBI interviewed nine people, including those whom Ford named as having attended the house gathering. Agents also questioned Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his genitals in her face when they were freshman at Yale University.

Senators were permitted to review reports of those interviews before voting.

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