Old and busted: Only the FBI has the skill and resources to definitively resolve vague allegations from decades ago without any evidence, and must be left alone to do their work! New hotness: The FBI is too incompetent to do a proper investigation! Today’s rhetorical whiplash comes from NBC News, which hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in its coverage of the Kavanaughcalypse … and doesn’t improve much here, either.
With rumors circulating that the FBI may wrap this up by today, NBC reports that dozens of people haven’t been contacted by investigators:
More than 40 people with potential information for the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have not been contacted for interviews by the FBI, NBC News has learned.
The bureau is expected to wrap up its expanded background investigation as early as Wednesday into two allegations against Kavanaugh — one from Christine Blasey Ford and the other from Deborah Ramirez.
Wow! Sounds like the FBI hires a lot of slackers, which would have been good information to have before insisting on having them conduct a supplemental background check. Who are all the people that the FBI is blowing off?
But sources close to the investigation, as well as a number of people who know those involved, say the FBI has not contacted dozens of potential corroborators or character witnesses.
Emphasis mine. The description in the headline and lead of “potential sources of information” is a clever bait-and-switch to make readers believe that the FBI is ignoring witnesses to the allegations. We find out in the next paragraph that at least half of the “more than 40 people” aren’t actual witnesses for direct testimony, but character references for Ramirez:
More than 20 individuals who know either Kavanaugh or Ramirez, who has accused the nominee of exposing himself to her while the two attended Yale University, have not heard from the FBI despite attempts to contact investigators, including Kavanaugh’s roommate at the time and a former close Ramirez friend.
Why might that be? For one thing, they’re not doing a background investigation on Ramirez. “Character witnesses” that have no connection to a specific allegation have no value for investigators. All they can provide is unusable hearsay. Her attorney alleged in a series of tweets that some of the people on their list “may have corroborating information,” but as both the New York Times and the New Yorker discovered, it’s not corroboration for the allegations. And that’s not surprising, since Ramirez only concluded that the perp in her allegations from decades ago was Kavanaugh last month.
So who are the other 20 people? They’re names submitted by Ford’s attorneys:
Attorneys for Ford said Tuesday that she had not been interviewed by the FBI. She received “no response” after reaching out again to the bureau, according to a letter from her attorneys.
Her team also submitted a list of nearly 20 people to the FBI to turn to, including the polygraph examiner who interviewed Ford, her therapist and friends she confided in about the allegation. According to people familiar with the names on the list, none of them have yet been interviewed by the FBI.
This group has the same problem, bounded by Ford’s own testimony that she never told anyone contemporaneously about the alleged assault. Telling friends and therapists 30 years later isn’t corroboration — it’s mostly hearsay and unusable by investigators. Some of that might be usable in a prosecution to establish Ford’s consistency and credibility, but (a) Ford hasn’t told this story consistently even over the last three months, and (b) Ford has never filed a complaint. Ford’s attorneys are in essence demanding that the FBI interview character witnesses again, just as Ramirez’ attorneys are demanding.
So let’s fix NBC’s headline here:
That’s more accurate, but probably wouldn’t get as many clicks. Perhaps in the future, NBC News can actually report the facts rather than take stenography from attorneys representing principals in a controversy.
The FBI’s supplemental investigation isn’t designed to satisfy the attorneys representing Ford and Ramirez. It’s aimed at a handful of senators whose votes will make or break Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And at least one of those seems pretty satisfied with job the FBI has been doing so far:
Asked Susan Collins if she is satisfied by what she has seen so far of the FBI probe on Kavanaugh. She said:
“Yes. I’ve had conversations with the White House Counsel and I believe that the FBI is following leads, which is what we wanted done, and conducting interviews.”
— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) October 2, 2018
They’re following leads, not taking polls of cheering sections on either side. We’ve heard enough from them already.
Addendum: So why spin this story this way? It’s certainly a good way to promote the argument that the FBI couldn’t complete this task in a week, isn’t it?