Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been publicly accused of at least two instances of sexual assault and being “present” during a third—allegations that have thrown what at one time seemed like his guaranteed confirmation into serious jeopardy. Following a last-minute Senate request for law enforcement to look into the accusations before the Senate votes on his nomination, the FBI has launched a weeklong investigation into Kavanaugh’s past.
Here’s everything we know so far about the investigation itself, and how politicians on both sides of the aisle—including President Donald Trump—are responding.
How did this start?
After being tearfully confronted by two survivors of sexual assault on Friday, outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake surprised his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee by stating that he would not participate in a vote for Kavanaugh until the FBI had completed an investigation into allegations that the nominee had sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others.
After some initial confusion among both Republican and Democratic senators, the Judiciary Committee officially requested the White House order an FBI investigation—lasting no more than one week—into Kavanaugh. On Friday evening, the White House agreed.
Debate over the investigation’s scope
Throughout the investigation, there has been a persistent question of just how wide a scope the FBI will be allowed to take when it comes to following up on the claims made by Ford, Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick—or if they would even investigate all three claims at all.
Initially, the FBI had been ordered to interview just four witnesses to investigate Kavanaugh’s alleged assaults: Kavanaugh’s high school friends Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth, Ford’s high school friend Leland Keyser, and Ramirez, the second person to come forward and accuse Kavanaugh of assault.
The narrow parameters of the investigation prompted an immediate outcry from Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of hamstringing the probe to limits its potentially incriminating findings. Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono described any defanged investigation as a “farce” while Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar decried the narrow probe to CNN, saying “You can’t interview this person, you can’t look at this time period, you can only look at these people from one side of the street from when they were growing up. I mean, come on.”
Following the pushback against the limited probe, the White House on Monday ordered the FBI to slightly expand the investigation by allowing them to interview additional witnesses—provided the investigation still conclude within the allotted week it was initially given.
Who has the FBI interviewed so far?
Absent their report, it’s hard to say just what new, or corroborating information the FBI has uncovered so far. We do know, however, that investigators have interviewed a number of people, including Kavanaugh’s second accuser, Deborah Ramirez.
P.J. Smyth, who has been cited as a potential witness to the house party in which Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted Ford, has also been interviewed. Smyth’s attorney said in a statement that that his client does not “have any knowledge” to corroborate Ford’s allegation that Kavauangh assaulted her in the early 1980s.
Notably, however, Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge—who features prominently in both Ford and Swetnick’s stories and who has been conspicuously absent since Kavanaugh was first accused of sexual assault—has also been interviewed by the FBI. And while the nature of his testimony hasn’t been made public, his attorney offered a cryptic update on Monday, saying that although he had spoken with investigators, “his interview has not been completed” as of that evening. On Tuesday, Judge’s attorney confirmed that the interview had concluded, but declined to publicly comment on what questions the FBI had asked.
More concretely, Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate, Chad Ludington, said on Monday that he would tell the FBI about his recollections of Kavanaugh’s college drinking, in which Kavanaugh allegedly became “belligerent and aggressive.” Kavanugh’s drinking has become a key factor in the allegations against him, after he insisted to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his testimony that he’d never blacked out, or behaved inappropriately with women while drunk—a direct contradiction of the allegations made against him by both Ramirez and Swetnick.
Additionally, Ludington has also come out with a story alleging Kavanaugh helped instigate a drunken brawl after mistaking a random person for the lead singer of the British reggae band UB40.
Senate Democrats have provided a list of 19 additional people they want the FBI to interview, including Kavanaugh himself, as well as Ford. It is unclear if the FBI has interviewed some or all of the people on this list, or if they will.
New complaints against Kavanaugh
Amidst the FBI’s investigation, additional troubling reports about Kavanaugh’s past have been made public. These include at least two ethics complaints filed against Kavanaugh in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before his latest Senate Judiciary Committee testimony—one of which is for lying about the sexual assault allegations against him.
A report from NBC News also suggests that despite his sworn testimony that he’d never heard of the allegations from Ramirez until her story was published by The New Yorker, Kavanaugh himself and members of his team had preempted the allegation by reaching out to Yale classmates, attempting to get them to deny her account.
None of this, to be clear, has stopped some Senate Republicans from continuing to defend Kavanaugh. Sen. Lindsay Graham—perhaps Kavanaugh’s most rabid supporter in last week’s hearing—has accused NBC of acting as a “co-conspirator” in the nominee’s “destruction.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also voiced his strong support for Kavanaugh, and despite softening his previous pledge to “plow right through” Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has nevertheless vowed to hold a full vote on Kavanugh’s nomination this week—offering senators little to no time to fully review the FBI’s investigation results.
McConnell has also preemptively sought to accuse Senate Democrats of any eventual dissatisfaction with the limited FBI investigation.
What happens next?
Given McConnell’s vow to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation this week, it’s hard to say whether the FBI report will have any real effect on Senate Republicans. Already, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has stated that absent any absolute smoking gun evidence of sexual assault, she’s prepared to vote for Kavanaugh. So, in some ways, the investigation has simply prolonged the existing Senate dynamic, in which Republican Sens. Flake, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly (all of whom voted to confirm Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch) represent the key swing votes on which Kavanaugh’s nomination hinges.
In the case of a split Senate, which notably happened last year in the confirmation vote of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education, Vice President Mike Pence would be called in to break the Senate tie, likely with a vote to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has spent much of the past week oscillating wildly from feigning seemingly pre-scripted sympathy for Ford, to calling the allegations against Kavanaugh a “con job” meant to smear an innocent man.
If, however, Kavanaugh’s nomination falls through, the White House reportedly has absolutely no idea how to proceed next.
This post will be updated as new information becomes available.
Update, 5:55 p.m.: Amidst rumors that the FBI may conclude the investigation as early as Tuesday evening, Christine Blasey Ford’s attorneys have written to FBI Director Chris Wray stating that Ford has not yet been interviewed as part of the probe. They requested a meeting with either Wray or the supervising agent in charge of the investigation, whose identity they say is unknown to them.
Update, 10/4, 9:52 a.m.: Early Thursday morning, the White House announced that the FBI had finished its investigation into the Kavanaugh allegations, and that it had found “no corroboration” of Dr. Ford’s claims of sexual assault. After unsuccessful attempts for Ford to speak with investigators, her attorneys dismissed the FBI’s report, saying they were “profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”
That disappointment was shared by Ramirez, whose attorney told FBI Director Chris Wray in a letter on Thursday that they “can only include that the FBI - or those controlling the investigation -did not want to learn the truth.”
Among those truths seemingly ignored by the FBI is an account by Kavanaugh’s former college roommate James Roche, who published an essay in Slate claiming he knew Kavanaugh had lied under oath about his drinking. Roche wrote that he was willing to speak to the FBI about what he’d seen in college, but there are no indications that the FBI had taken him up on the offer.
The FBI also reportedly ignored a statement from a former classmate of Kavanaugh at Georgetown Prep, who wrote in a statement obtained by the New Yorker that he’d repeatedly heard Kavanaugh boast of both his drinking, and sexual conquests while in high school.