Define “we.” If “we” includes Democrats demanding an investigation into “boofing,” then Donald Trump’s assertion that “we don’t want to go on a witch hunt” is at the very least arguable. Trump responded to questions about the supplemental background check of Brett Kavanaugh at a press conference earlier, explaining that “my White House will do whatever the senators want” on the scope of the FBI’s work. On the other hand, Trump asserted, he wants it focused and handled quickly. “Speed” is his highest priority:
Actually, there seem to be some in the media looking to gin up a witch hunt, too:
2018: the year of weaponizing college friendships pic.twitter.com/RkMke7UYSW
— Walter Olson 😷 (@walterolson) October 1, 2018
Note that this is basically a general cattle call for gossip, and for nothing at all specific. It’s not reporting, it’s recruiting. This kind of invitation incentivizes all sorts of people with axes to grind and/or want to make themselves part of a national news story (whether they belong there or not) to spin tales for which there is no substantiation and little indication of relevance. The defense for this is that reporters can tell the difference, but the track record of Mayer and Ronan Farrow took a big hit on that point when they published Deborah Ramirez’ allegations despite not being able to substantiate them. In fact, they excused the report by claiming it was news that Senate Democrats were checking into Ramirez’ claims, a pretty good way to whitewash bad journalism by shifting responsibility for airing inflammatory allegations without any substantiation at all.
Trump’s comments on the scope of the investigation otherwise come down to information already on hand. The White House is taking its lead from the Senate Republicans, who got forced into the deal by Jeff Flake at the last moment. Since Chris Coons agreed to limit it to one week, the FBI will not be able to follow up on every piece of gossip and every reference to “boofing” that Democrats are checking.
Even with a week, though, the FBI can get a lot accomplished, assuming there’s anything to accomplish at all. If it comes up empty, though, it still won’t satisfy Democrats in the Senate, who will point out that the FBI hasn’t disproven the claims from Christine Ford or Ramirez. And that will be true, because it’s impossible to prove a negative, especially four decades later without any specifics on dates and places. That’s why we don’t entertain unsubstantiated allegations — because when we believe accusers without any corroborating evidence, we get witch hunts rather than justice. And then when it doesn’t work, we get demands to explain irrelevant behavior from decades earlier as though it constitutes a deep insight into the present character and qualifications of an individual.
That brings us to boofing and its relevance to the Supreme Court. I’ll have more on that later, but it’s worth noting that the goalposts have now moved past sexual assault and underaged drinking all the way to whether people used adolescent slang for sex and flatulence. It may not be a literal witch hunt, but it suuuuuuure looks like a moral panic.
Update: The New York Times says the FBI has carte blanche on interviews, but not on time:
The White House has authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long the review is finished by the end of the week, two people briefed on the matter said on Monday. …
The revised White House instruction amounted to a risky bet that the F.B.I. will not find anything new in the next four days that could change the public view of the allegations. Republicans have resisted an open-ended investigation that could head in unpredictable directions. But the limited time frame could minimize the danger even as it heightens the likelihood that F.B.I. interviews do not resolve the conflicting accounts.
Mr. Trump said he instructed his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, over the weekend to tell the F.B.I. to carry out an open investigation, although he included the caveat that it should accommodate the desires of Senate Republicans. Mr. McGahn followed through with a call to the F.B.I., according to the people briefed on the matter.
MSNBC booking producer Michael Del Moro says the NYT is also reporting that they have completed four key interviews:
Two people briefed tell the NY Times that the WH has told the FBI agents can interview anyone necessary… and they have ALREADY interviewed Judge, Ramirez, Smyth, and Keyser. https://t.co/L0qGgxqjaj
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) October 1, 2018
In reading the article, however, it doesn’t report that those interviews have been concluded. The report says that the initial scope limited the FBI to those four witnesses. Perhaps that’s coming in a separate report.