Is the FBI investigation limited in scope or not?

NBC reported last night that it was. Not only would the feds not interview Julie Swetnick about her dubious “rape parties” allegation, they’d also skip basic matters like asking Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates whether he lied under oath to the Judiciary Committee about the extent of his youthful drinking.

Then, as Jazz noted earlier, Trump suddenly tweeted that the NBC report was fake news. He wanted the FBI to interview whomever they liked. Which was … really surprising. It would have been easy for him to say, “We only have a week, we had to help them prioritize by limiting the scope of what they can look at,” knowing that half the country would have backed him up on it. Instead he’s maximizing the chances that the feds will find something damaging to his nominee, presumably in the name of maximizing public respect for the FBI and its investigation.

Which is the opposite of how one might have predicted Trump would react.

Here’s what NBC claimed was off-limits, until Trump tweeted last night:

[A]s of now, the FBI cannot ask the supermarket that employed Judge for records verifying when he was employed there, one of the sources was told. Ford said in congressional testimony Thursday that those records would help her narrow the time frame of the alleged incident which she recalls happening some time in the summer of 1982 in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Two sources familiar with the investigation said the FBI will also not be able to examine why Kavanaugh’s account of his drinking at Yale University differs from those of some former classmates, who have said he was known as a heavy drinker. Those details may be pertinent to investigating claims from Ramirez who described an alleged incident of sexual misconduct she said occurred while Kavanaugh was inebriated. Ramirez’s lawyer said Saturday that she had been contacted by the FBI and would cooperate.

It’d be amazing if the supermarket still had employment records for a kid who worked there briefly 36 years ago, but it never hurts to ask. NBC’s sources claim that Don McGahn’s office had given the Bureau a list of people whom they were permitted to interview, which smells fishy considering McGahn famously was one of Kavanaugh’s biggest boosters in the SCOTUS selection process. To all appearances, the White House counsel was tying the FBI’s hands in the name of protecting his buddy Brett from dirt the feds might dig up — until POTUS intervened and untied them.

But wait, back up. It’s possible that McGahn’s getting a bad rap and that POTUS is being a bit more coy in his tweet than he seems at first glance. Here’s how the NYT describes the investigation:

Democrats, left out of the discussions that led to Mr. Trump’s order, tried on Saturday to clarify the scope of the F.B.I. investigation with Senate Republicans and the White House. Senate Republicans drafted the witness list for the background check, according to the people familiar with it, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, shared it with the White House…

The [first] four witnesses were Mr. Judge; Leland Keyser, a high school friend of Dr. Blasey’s whom she said attended the party but was not told of the assault; P.J. Smyth, another party guest; and Ms. Ramirez, the Yale accuser.

The White House has asked that the F.B.I. share its findings after investigators complete those interviews, and at that point, Mr. Trump and his advisers would decide whether to have the accusations investigated further, the people said.

Senate Republicans, not McGahn’s office, wrote the witness list — which makes sense, since the White House is momentarily at the mercy of Flake, Collins, and Murkowski. If the FBI probe is too cursory for their liking, Kavanaugh’s going down. Ultimately Trump and McGahn have to make the three amigos happy, whatever that may mean. On the other hand, it sounds like Trump and McGahn aren’t giving the Bureau a mandate to go out and interview anyone it likes, as Trump’s tweet implied. They’re going to do this in stages, maybe even day by day, based on what each stage of interviews produces. No doubt after Judge, Keyser, Smyth, and Ramirez are interviewed the White House will consult with Collins et al. and ask, “Is this good enough?” If Senate Republicans say no, follow-up interviews will be ordered. If they say yes, probe’s over. This isn’t a fact-finding inquiry, it’s a “getting to yes with Jeff Flake and other centrists” inquiry. The probe will end as soon as Flake, Collins, and Murky are satisfied, not a day before or a day later.

Both NBC and the NYT report that while the feds won’t interview Julie Swetnick herself about the, uh, “rape parties,” they can ask other witnesses — namely, Judge, who supposedly attended them — about her claims. The Wall Street Journal spent the past week doing that, in fact. Guess what it found: “The Wall Street Journal has attempted to corroborate Ms. Swetnick’s account, contacting dozens of former classmates and colleagues, but couldn’t reach anyone with knowledge of her allegations. No friends have come forward to publicly support her claims.” A pre-recorded TV interview with Swetnick will air later today on Showtime’s show, “The Circus.” I wonder if John Heilemann will ask her about this story, noting allegations of misconduct (sexual and otherwise) on the job in her past:

In the suit, Webtrends alleged Swetnick claimed to have graduated from Johns Hopkins University but the company said it subsequently learned the school had no record of her attendance. Webtrends said she also “falsely described her work experience” at a prior employer…

The suit alleges Swetnick “engaged in unwelcome sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct” directed at two male employees during a business lunch, with Webtrends customers present. Swetnick claimed two other employees had sexually harassed her, according to the suit.

The company claimed in its suit that it determined Swetnick *did* engage in misconduct, but the suit was eventually dismissed and Michael Avenatti claims it was nothing more than retaliation. Given how thin the evidence is for Swetnick’s claims and how much Trump (and Beltway Democrats) would relish seeing Avenatti and his client discredited, I’m surprised that Trump and McGahn haven’t made Swetnick’s allegations part of the FBI’s brief. Maybe they think there’s not enough time to run down evidence of her claims. Or possibly they’ve concluded as a strategic matter that Kavanaugh’s been damaged enough already and that any FBI attention to Swetnick’s claims, even in the name of debunking them, would backfire by encouraging media interest in them.

By the way, here’s the latest from Avenatti, who’s definitely treating allegations of serial gang rape in the Maryland suburbs as his highest priority:

As for the feds not being allowed to look into classmates’ claims about Kavanaugh’s college drinking, I understand the point made by critics like Byron York. This is supposed to be an investigation about an attempted rape, not drinking. If the rape accusation is credible, he should be disqualified; if he liked to get hammered at school when he was 19, he should not be disqualified or else 95 percent of people with a B.A. are disqualified from serving on the Supreme Court. The FBI has two legitimate reasons to be interested in Kavanaugh’s drinking, though. One is to see if it can corroborate the claim that he behaved much more aggressively when loaded. Both Ford and Deborah Ramirez say he was completely blitzed when he assaulted them. If others remember dramatic personality changes in him when he was drunk, that makes their stories somewhat more plausible. The other reason is credibility: Kavanaugh’s made lots of claims under oath about the extent of his drinking. If the feds can establish that any of those claims were obviously untrue (e.g., do any classmates remember him telling them that he blacked out during a night of binge-drinking, which he now says he’s never done), then there’s reason to believe he lied under oath. Which would itself be disqualifying.

That’s also why some Dems pressed him during Thursday’s hearing about items in his yearbook. It wasn’t just to embarrass and demean him by making him discuss juvenile fart jokes and sexual slang (although that was certainly part of it), it was to pin him down under oath on what certain terms like “Devil’s Triangle” meant. Kavanaugh’s definition of that term was considerably more innocuous than the generally known definition, which was convenient given what he’s been accused of. If the FBI finds that his schoolmates remember “Devil’s Triangle” differently, you’d have another reason to believe he lied under oath. Then Flake, Collins, and Murkowski would need to ask themselves: If he’d lie about something as trivial as that, why wouldn’t he lie about Ford and Ramirez?

Here’s Lindsey Graham calling for the FBI’s investigation to include the Democrats’ role in leaking Ford’s letter. Good idea. Exit question: Will the feds be allowed to talk to Mark Judge’s high-school girlfriend, Elizabeth Rasor? She’s the one who told the New Yorker that Judge once admitted that he and a group of other boys had “taken turns” having sex with a drunken girl, which is the closest anyone’s come to corroborating Swetnick’s claims. She says she’s willing to talk to the FBI.