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What Does The FBI Investigation Into Brett Kavanaugh Entail?


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising Republicans their moment. The Kentucky senator has spent years leading the way in Republican efforts to dominate the courts. Senate Republicans held many judgeships open for long periods during President Obama's administration, even including a Supreme Court nomination that was blocked until after the 2016 election. Now a Republican Supreme Court nominee has been delayed, and McConnell is determined to proceed.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close. Judge Kavanaugh's nomination is out of committee. We're considering it here on the floor. And Mr. President, we'll be voting this week.

INSKEEP: This week - that means the FBI has a few days left to vet the nominee. Brett Kavanaugh faces accusations of sexual misconduct and assault from decades ago. The White House insists that agents now have the freedom to question anyone they want about those allegations. Those following the story include Chris Swecker, assistant director of the FBI from 2004 to 2006. Good morning.

CHRIS SWECKER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you now have confidence the bureau can go where it wants and speak to whoever it wants to?

SWECKER: I do. It's important to understand what this is. This is a special inquiry. That's a term of art within the FBI and within their manuals of procedures and within the Justice Department. It's a background check, essentially, for a presidential appointee.

INSKEEP: Mmm hmm.

SWECKER: FBI has done thousands of these background checks for circuit court judges, district court judges and Cabinet-level appointees. So they're very accustomed to short deadlines. The general - usually, the deadline is 21 days to do the comprehensive check, which they've already done six different times on Judge Kavanaugh. So they're focusing in on the allegations.

INSKEEP: OK, so it sounds like you think, even though there might normally have been more time, a week is enough. Is that correct?

SWECKER: Yeah. It's plenty of time to do what they need to do - because, again, they're focusing in on specific allegations - what we would call derogatory information - that's come up during a SPIN, which is the acronym for the special inquiry. They have - well, not unlimited resources, but they have plenty of resources to get this done. They'll send a - they have a command post at headquarters. They're shooting leads all over the country. Agents will rush out immediately and do an interview or grab a record or do whatever they're assigned to do by the coordinator at FBI headquarters. So they're used to getting this done, and they'll have something - they'll have a report by Friday.

INSKEEP: I guess they've already got some work - they've already got some material to work with. You've had the two principles testify under oath and on television. We have names of other possible witnesses like Mark Judge, a man who was described as being in the room when Kavanaugh was alleged to have been committing this assault. Who else would you want to hear from?

SWECKER: Any of the witnesses who - I mean, excuse me - Dr. Ford said were in the room or at the party or may - and anyone that they may have confided in. They'll look for any record. For example, Dr. Ford mentioned Safeway employment records.

INSKEEP: Oh yeah.

SWECKER: So they could try to get their hands on that. They'll try to identify the house, interview the parents. They'll be very comprehensive, and they'll do it very quickly.

INSKEEP: Now, we're referring, of course, here to Christine Blasey Ford, who is the principle accuser. There are other accusers, at least one other of whom is believed to have been interviewed by the FBI. Is it normal in a background check like this to try to reconstruct events from more than 30 years ago?

SWECKER: No. Most background checks, according to the manual, go back 18 years. So this is twice the time span that these SPINs usually go. But it's not - finding derogatory information is not unusual. And the FBI has done thousands of these. The way to insulate themselves from being caught in the political storm is to do them the way they've always done them.

INSKEEP: Now, you just said the political storm. How difficult would that be at this moment for the FBI when it's been under so much political pressure already?

SWECKER: It complicates things. I mean, for one thing, to - not to be - make a political statement, but the delay caused some complications because had the complaint come in six weeks ago, the FBI could've discreetly interviewed witnesses and been assured that they weren't getting details from the press and were using their own independent recall as opposed to finding details in the press or having details embedded in reporters' questions, for example.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. You're noting that Dianne Feinstein, the California senator, along with another lawmaker, had a letter from Christine Blasey Ford back in July, we think, but did not reveal it at first because of concerns about confidentiality. And that has taken things out of order. I'd like to ask - just your gut sense - in the end, would you expect in a few days for FBI agents to come up with conclusive proof that an event did or did not happen in the early 1980s? Or in the end, is it more likely that senators are just going to have to look at a little better information and make a gut judgment?

SWECKER: I think it's that they're going to get a little better information, maybe a lot better information, but no conclusions will come out of it. They don't make conclusions in these reports. In that sense, Joe Biden was correct. They report the information. They report any corroborating information that they obtained or any contradicting information. And then they provide the report to the president, who will share it with the Senate. That's the way they've always done these, and that's the way this one's going to be done.

INSKEEP: I guess people are being professionally questioned in a methodical way rather than hearing about one allegation, then another allegation, which is what's happening right now with the media.

SWECKER: Correct. And the sequencing of the interview will be - I believe Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh will be the last to be interviewed. They'll have as many answers in their hands as possible to test out, you know, the details that will come out of those two interviews. And I know they've been interviewed before but not by FBI agents. So it will be a very thorough interview. They will have these people narrate and not provide them answers in the questions - embedded in the questions.

INSKEEP: OK, Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI, thanks very much.

SWECKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.