WASHINGTON DC — Top officials said the White House is controlling the scope of the FBI probe into allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The investigation is the result of a dramatic day in Washington on Friday that by all appearances began with quick movement toward Kavanaugh’s confirmation and ended with a pause in the process while the FBI takes the reigns.
Following the agreement for the FBI to investigate Kavanaugh, the focus has moved to how the probe will be handled, its ultimate findings, and whether it will put to rest fears about a lack of due diligence over the nominee.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN that the FBI would take its direction from the White House, not the Senate, and that the agency would interview a handful of people.
Kavanaugh’s drinking history, the source said, which has come up in the allegations, is not part of the probe, which was being managed by the FBI’s security division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
While President Donald Trump declared Saturday that the FBI would have “free rein” in its investigation, people close to the matter say the scope is far more limited. White House counsel Don McGhan, who is the administration’s leading advocate for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, is overseeing the probe for the President and working closely with Senate Republican leaders.
The source reiterated that the agents would make no conclusion about what witnesses tell them and would hand their results over to the White House, which is standard protocol in similar background investigations. The source would not say if the direction the FBI received listed specific people or if it was to investigate specific allegations.
Kavanaugh has denied all the allegations made against him.
A source briefed on the matter said the White House gave the limited scope of the investigation to the FBI based on what the Senate asked.
Trump ordered the investigation on Friday after Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake pushed for the Senate to request the FBI review.
Two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN, however, that Senate Republicans were working with White House counsel Don McGahn, who was “trying to make it as narrow as possible.”
Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the White House was respecting the independence of the FBI in the matter but stressed her belief that it should not grow into a “fishing expedition.”
“It will be limited in scope,” Conway said. “It’s meant to last one week, I believe beginning last Friday. And it will — it’s not meant to be a fishing expedition.”
Asked if McGahn had told the FBI who it could interview, Conway said, “I don’t think Don McGahn would do that, but I’ve not talked to him about it.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made similar points in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” where she said the White House was “not micromanaging” the FBI probe and that she was not aware of McGahn telling the FBI who it could interview.
“The White House counsel has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like and what the scope of the investigation is,” Sanders said.
A person familiar with the matter told CNN that Senate Republicans drafted the initial list of people it wanted the FBI to interview in the investigation and gave the list to the White House. The source noted that it was not a final list and that they were leaving open the possibility of additional witnesses.
The FBI has started investigating Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high schoolers. FBI agents are also expected to interview several people who Professor Ford said were present at the party where the alleged assault took place, including Mark Judge, Patrick J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Professor Ford has alleged Judge was present in the room with her and Kavanaugh when the nominee allegedly assaulted her. Judge has said he has no memory of the assault Professor Ford described and does not recall the party, and Smyth and Keyser have also said they don’t remember the party.
Deborah Ramirez, another woman who came forward with allegations against Kavanaugh, has been contacted by the FBI, according to an attorney for Ramirez.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Kavanaugh supporter who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Flake, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski “wanted a limited review.”
“They wanted to talk — the FBI to talk with the witnesses that Dr. Ford named,” Graham said. “They want to talk to Ms. Ramirez, because she refused to talk to the committee. They’re going to Mark Judge, did you ever see Brett Kavanaugh drug women or engage in gang rape. I think that’s going to be the focus of it.”
Graham was referring to an allegation from another woman, Julie Swetnick, who has come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh and Judge, saying they were present at the party in the early 1980s where she says she was gang-raped.
Swetnick did not identify Kavanaugh or Judge as one of her attackers. Swetnick said further that over a series of parties, she saw Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women during the early 1980s.”
Kavanaugh has also denied Swetnick’s allegations, characterizing them as “from the Twilight Zone.”
Judge said in a statement that he categorically denies Swetnick’s allegations.
As of Sunday morning, there was no indication that the FBI was going to talk to Swetnick.
Two Republican sources familiar with the matter have told CNN that the hope is that when investigators sit down with Judge, they will ask him not only about Dr. Ford’s allegations, but also about those made by Swetnick.