At that time, Clarence Thomas, nominated to the Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush, was facing sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill, a former University of Oklahoma law professor. The FBI investigated, and the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Thomas, Hill and other witnesses.
During one of several hearings, Biden said the committee could not rely on the FBI’s report.
“You would not like it if we did, because it’s inconclusive,” Biden said to Thomas, who sat stoically at a table in front of the Senate panel. “They say, he said, she said and they said, period.
“So when people wave an FBI report before you,” he continued, waving a thin stack of papers, “understand they do not — they do not, they do not — reach conclusions. They do not make, as my friend points out more accurately, they do not make recommendations.”
Fast-forward to the #MeToo era, with another Supreme Court nominee now facing sexual misconduct allegations.
President Trump’s nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, was all but certain to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate until the allegations began to emerge.
And as Democrats called for an FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, Republicans seized on the opportunity to remind them what one of their own said about such a probe nearly three decades ago.
“My Democrat friends might want to consider this from then-Judiciary Committee Chairman JOE BIDEN (D-DE),” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted Tuesday night.
“Joe Biden has a message for Democrats who are demanding an FBI investigation,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted a few hours later.
That same night, Sean Hannity aired a portion of Biden’s impassioned remarks on his Fox News show and argued that the archival footage proves Democrats have rejected their past reasoning about an FBI investigation.
On Wednesday, during a news conference at the United Nations, Trump himself brought up Biden, after he was asked why the White House had not asked the FBI to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh.
The FBI, Trump said, “told us they’ve investigated Judge Kavanaugh six times, five times — many times over the years. They know him very well.” Regarding the first allegation, from Christine Blasey Ford, Trump said that “there was nothing to investigate from at least one standpoint — they didn’t know the location, they didn’t know the time, they didn’t know the year, they didn’t know anything.”
Trump added: “Also, it’s not for the FBI, if you look at what Joe Biden said. He said, ‘They don’t do this,' and he said it very clearly."
Then, on Thursday, as he opened the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing, where Ford and Kavanaugh were scheduled to testify, Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) cited Biden’s 1991 statement.
Bill Russo, Biden’s spokesman, tweeted a statement from the former vice president on Friday evening chastising Republicans on the Judiciary Committee for “every effort to distort” his words during the Kavanaugh hearings. Biden said that their “blind rage” and “brute partisanship” threaten the country’s faith in justice:
What we witnessed yesterday from the Republican Judiciary Committee members was a degree of invective, blind rage, and brute partisanship that threatens not only the Senate and the Supreme Court — it threatens the basic faith in fairness and justice that binds this country together.Doctor Blasey Ford gave courageous, credible and powerful testimony. I believed her. The country believed her.I am glad that members of the Senate have exercised their power to advise and consent to delay further action on this nomination for a short while longer so that the FBI can do its due diligence in this nomination. I know how important the FBI's role in nomination proceedings is. Despite every effort to distort my words and record, I insisted on and got an FBI investigation twenty-seven years ago. It was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now.Doctor Blasey Ford deserves an FBI investigation today. The millions of women who have suffered sexual assault and abuse deserve an FBI investigation. The country deserves one. And for its reputation and legitimacy, the Supreme Court needs one too.Statement from Former Vice President Joe Biden
On Thursday, Russo said that the White House and Senate Republicans were purposely taking Biden’s comments out of context “to create a smoke-screen for their unprecedented refusal to have the FBI conduct an investigation into credible charges.”
“Vice President Biden believes that the FBI should have investigated in this case in advance of Dr. Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony today, just as they did in 1991,” the statement said.
Ronald Klain, Biden’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011, said on Twitter that the former vice president’s point was that the FBI’s purpose is to investigate, take statements from witnesses and prepare a report, as it did in 1991. The agency should do so now, he added.
“Maybe you should listen to my ex-boss a little more carefully,” Klain tweeted in response to McConnell.
Echoing Klain, Jeff Peck, who was staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Thomas’s confirmation hearings, said Biden’s comments in 1991 are “clear and unassailable.” The FBI does not offer conclusions, and senators have not expected the agency to do so, he said.
Peck cited Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s memo laying out the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director. Rosenstein wrote that Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails by concluding that “the case should be closed without prosecution.” It was not Comey’s or the FBI’s job to make such an announcement, Rosenstein wrote.
“What Senator Biden said in 1991 is entirely consistent with that and the procedures the Judiciary Committee has always followed,” Peck wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “The FBI investigates. Senators reach conclusions and vote.”
Biden has been criticized for his handling of the Thomas confirmation hearings, during which Hill, who is black, endured skeptical and accusatory questioning from 14 white men on the Senate panel.
Biden has since apologized and said recently that a woman’s public claims of assault should be presumed to be true. He also told the “Today” show that Ford should not face the character assassination to which Hill was subjected.
Ford has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly pinning her down on a bed, groping her and covering her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes during a house party in Maryland in the 1980s, when the two were in high school.
Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, told the New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were both first-year students at Yale University. And a third woman came forward Wednesday: Julie Swetnick, represented by lawyer Michael Avenatti, said Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and was present at a 1982 house party during which she was gang raped, The Post’s John Wagner reported.
Swetnick did not say that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, but she said she had witnessed Kavanaugh and other boys getting girls drunk so they could take turns raping them during house parties.
Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied sexual misconduct, telling Fox News in a rare interview that he has “always treated women with dignity and respect.” In a statement issued through the White House on Wednesday, after Swetnick came forward, Kavanaugh said: “This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don’t know who this is, and this never happened.”
Kavanaugh also told Fox News that he never drank excessively during his younger years — an assertion that was contradicted by former classmates who said he was frequently inebriated when he was at Yale, not the “choir boy” he had sought to portray.
In his prepared testimony for Thursday’s high-stakes hearing, Kavanaugh acknowledged drinking and said he sometimes “had too many.”