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FBI background check of Kavanaugh appears to have been highly curtailed

Senate Republicans gave in to Democrats' demands to reopen the FBI investigation into Brett M. Kavanaugh, but the two sides are still pitted against each other. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The FBI background check of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh appeared to remain curtailed in its scope, opening up the possibility that the bureau would again face criticism for what some will view as a lackluster investigation.

Although complete details of the findings have yet to be released, the inquiry seems to have focused mostly on an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in California, who alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her decades ago at a party in Maryland, when both were in high school.

The Washington Post has been able to confirm interviews with six witnesses, five of whom have a connection to Ford or her allegations.

In an interview on CNN on Thursday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the FBI had contacted 10 people and interviewed nine of them.

The investigation was always unlikely to prove whether Kavanaugh is guilty of sexual misconduct decades ago. But the inquiry’s limited scope — which was dictated by the White House, along with a Friday deadline — is likely to exacerbate the partisan tension surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination.

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Even before the investigation ended, several people who said they had information that could be useful said they ended up mired in bureaucracy when they tried to get in touch with the FBI. Democrats also cried foul aboutwhat they considered inappropriate parameters that the White House seemed to be imposing on the bureau.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is a "coordinated smear campaign" by Democrats. (Video: Reuters)

The White House and the FBI have treated each other warily throughout the process, people familiar with the matter said. Both sides were mindful that their written communications might one day be subject to subpoena, particularly if Democrats win back control of the House in next month’s midterm election, the people said.

President Trump has insisted publicly that he was not curtailing the inquiry. But privately, the White House restricted the FBI from delving deeply into Kavanaugh’s drinking in high school and college and exploring whether he lied to Congress about his alcohol use, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

Some of those involved in the case complained that the bureau did not follow leads that were offered to it.

The FBI, for example, interviewed Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing his penis to her at a gathering when both were students at Yale, and Ramirez’s team provided agents with the names of more than 20 people who might have information relevant to her allegations. But as of Wednesday, Ramirez’s team had no indication that the bureau had interviewed any of them.

The FBI also did not interview Ford, her legal team said. Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about a high school gathering at which she said Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed and groped her helped spark the background check. The legal team said Ford was willing to turn over to the bureau notes from therapy sessions in which she described the assault.

Instead, the bureau interviewed three people who Ford said attended the party: Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth and Leland Keyser. The FBI also talked to two other friends of Kavanaugh’s who were listed as attending a gathering during the same summer the alleged assault is believed to have occurred: Chris Garrett, who went out with Ford for a time, and Tim Gaudette.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that agents also had apparently not talked to Kavanaugh.

“The White House confirmation that it will not allow the FBI to interview Dr. Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh or witnesses identified by Deborah Ramirez raises serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation,” she said in a statement.

The FBI similarly had not — at least as of Wednesday — interviewed Julie Swetnick, who said in a sworn declaration that Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and was present at a house party in 1982 where she says she was the victim of a “gang” rape. But the bureau did ask Judge, who was named in the affidavit, about her claims.

It is not abnormal in background checks for the White House to tell the bureau what to do. Background checks, unlike criminal investigations, are done for the benefit of the White House so that officials might have more information about people they want to nominate for critical government jobs.

The background check for Kavanaugh, though, was anything but ordinary. Witness interviews were disclosed in near real time, along with complaints that the bureau was not doing enough. The high-profile nature of the matter spurred many who thought they had relevant information to go to the FBI.

Richard Oh, an emergency room physician who lived in Kavanaugh’s first-year residence hall at Yale, said he contacted the FBI office in Denver to describe overhearing someone tearfully telling another student about an incident when Kavanaugh was a student at the university. The incident, which Oh described to the New Yorker, involved a fake penis and a male student exposing himself.

Oh said he was put on hold and waited so long that he eventually submitted information through the FBI website.

“So far, I haven’t heard back,” Oh said Tuesday. On Wednesday night, he said that was still the case.

Lawyer Alan M. Abramson said he represented a friend of Ramirez’s who was hoping to share an account of a conversation the two had in the early 1990s about an incident during her freshman year. The friend, Abramson said, was among those whose names Ramirez’s lawyer had given to the FBI.

Abramson said that when the friend, whom he declined to identify, did not hear from the bureau, he called a supervisor, who referred him to a field office, which said it would relay his information. “I have not heard from them yet, but I am hopeful that they will still contact me,” Abramson said in an email to The Post.

Kerry Berchem, who attended Yale a year after Kavanaugh, said she contacted the FBI about text messages she received from a close friend of Kavanaugh’s — messages that she believes suggest Kavanaugh or his friends might have been trying to preemptively rebut negative stories that could surface during his confirmation process. Berchem said agents could determine that nothing untoward happened but expressed frustration about not being interviewed.

“I’m simply trying to have relevant investigators ask the right questions,” Berchem said in an interview with The Post. “If there was an anticipatory narrative to discredit or conceal the Ramirez allegations in July or September, then the Senate should know about it and take that into account.”

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.