F.B.I. Review Of Kavanaugh Was Limited From The Start

An exasperated President Trump picked up the phone to call the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, last Sunday. Tell the F.B.I. they can investigate anything, he told Mr. McGahn, because we need the critics to stop.

F. McGahn

Not so fast, Mr. McGahn said.

Mr. McGahn, according to people familiar with the conversation, told the president that even though the White House was facing a storm of condemnation for limiting the F.B.I. background check into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a wide-ranging inquiry like some Democrats were demanding — and Mr. Trump was suggesting — would be potentially disastrous for Judge Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation to the Supreme Court.

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It would also go far beyond the F.B.I.’s usual “supplemental background investigation,” which is, by definition, narrow in scope.

From the start, there were different expectations. Democrats hoped for a full investigation into the allegations, even as they were skeptical that one would occur and angrily said on Friday that the White House had quashed it. In all, 10 people were interviewed, and an 11th declined to cooperate.

But the F.B.I. did not interview the two people at the center — Judge Kavanaugh and his main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

People familiar with the process say the White House is always in charge of background checks and can limit the scope of the questions F.B.I. agents can ask and who they can interview.

In the case of Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. McGahn instructed the F.B.I. to do an additional background check focused exclusively on the sexual misconduct charges leveled by three women.

In talking with Republican senators, White House officials said, it became clear to Mr. McGahn four people whom senators wanted to be interviewed: Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that Judge Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a college party; Mark Judge, a high school friend who was said to have witnessed an assault by Judge Kavanaugh on Christine Blasey Ford at a high school party; and two other friends who Dr. Blasey said were at that party, P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser.

The White House was kept informed as the agents did their work, with summaries of the interviews — known as “Form 302s” — sent to the White House as they were completed.

Officials said that in a typical supplemental background check inquiry, agents would be required to ask the White House for permission to expand beyond the initial list of interview subjects.

But they insisted that the F.B.I. was not required to do that in the case of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Over the course of the week, they said, agents decided to add a handful of other interviews to the inquiry.

In addition, the F.B.I. agents collected written statements that had been submitted to them from other people, officials said. Those statements were also sent to the White House and forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee, officials said.

The contents of the interviews have not been made public. Early Thursday, the White House sent the summaries of the interviews to the Judiciary Committee, which made them available to senators.

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