Democrats spent the entire day Thursday pressing for an expanded FBI investigation of the sexual assault claims made against Brett Kavanaugh. Republicans answered these pleas by repeatedly pointing to Joe Biden’s words about FBI investigations during the Anita Hill hearing: “The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything, obviously doesn’t understand anything.”
But, thanks to Jeff Flake, Democrats got their way. Friday, President Trump ordered a limited, supplemental FBI investigation into the allegations. So what will this accomplish? Probably not much according to CNN:
FBI officials will likely try to question some or all of the potential witnesses, in addition to Ford and Kavanaugh. The FBI, however, cannot force interviews in background check investigations, or in criminal investigations for that matter. While witnesses in a criminal case can be subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, witnesses to a background investigation don’t face a similar law enforcement tool to get them to talk.
In addition to the people said to be at the party, investigators may seek out witnesses who can attest to the credibility of Ford, including her parents, the former agents said. Evidence of any substance abuse problems could color a claimant’s accusation, but the FBI notably does not make any conclusions about the credibility or significance of an allegation in a background investigation report.
“They could interview someone who says I saw Judge Kavanaugh get beamed down from a UFO — he’s an alien. They would put that in the 302,” said Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director, referring to the form in which agents will memorialize their interviews. “They wouldn’t say ‘we disproved this, they didn’t disprove this.'”
So, just as Republicans pointed out Thursday, the FBI will simply write down whatever anyone says. It will not offer any advice to Senators on who is telling the truth. Retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano tells CNN the difficulties of the investigation are compounded by the length of time that has passed. “You’re going to be dealing on fading memories, you’re going to be dealing on neighborhood canvasses where the accuser is not sure where that neighborhood was. It’s going to be an uphill, daunting task,” he said.
Because of the high profile of this case, the FBI has the ability to make it its sole priority for the next week, meaning they could exhaust all of the people who are willing to talk to them in a matter of days with time to spare.
So probably sometime in the middle of next week, the FBI will announce it is done and will dump a bunch of unsubstantiated charges on the Judiciary Committee with no conclusions about what is reliable and what is not. Democrats will try to make the best of this fishing expedition, but it seems likely that the people who have already denied any recall of the central events under threat of felony charges will say the same thing to the FBI. Unless that suddenly changes, it seems unlikely the bottom line is going to change here.
Here’s retired agent James Gagliano on CNN today talking about the FBI’s investigative process: