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FBI director defends ‘limited’ Kavanaugh background probe

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray took questions from Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) on the investigation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh Oct. 10. (Video: Reuters)
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FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Wednesday defended his agents’ handling of a background investigation into then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, saying that it was “limited in scope” and followed standard procedures.

Wray was pressed at a Senate hearing by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) about how much direction FBI agents received from the White House when they conducted a supplemental background investigation into claims by a California professor that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when the two were teenagers.

Harris pressed the director to explain why FBI agents never interviewed the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, or Kavanaugh about her accusations.

Wray replied, “As is standard, the investigation was very specific in scope, limited in scope, and that is the usual process,” adding that “my folks have assured me that the usual process was followed.”

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)

Harris then asked whether the FBI examined whether Kavanaugh may have misled Congress in his public testimony.

“That’s not something I could discuss here,” Wray said.

FBI probe of Kavanaugh sparks partisan fight

Wray appeared alongside Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a hearing about security threats.

He did not answer whether White House counsel Donald McGahn played a role in discussions between the White House and the FBI about the investigation, saying only that he was told the FBI’s security division coordinated the effort with the White House security office.

The Kavanaugh probe, Wray insisted, was “consistent with the standard process for such investigations going back quite a long ways.”

Republicans have said the FBI reached out to 11 people, 10 of whom agreed to be interviewed.

Democrats have accused White House officials of preventing the FBI from conducting a thorough investigation. Harris said in a Senate floor speech last week that the probe was “not a search for the truth. This was not an investigation. This was an abdication of responsibility and duty.”

Background-check investigations are not like criminal probes, which are conducted independently from administration oversight to determine whether someone should be charged with a crime. Rather, they are an investigation conducted at the direction and specifications of the White House to answer particular questions about a nominee or job candidate.

Kavanaugh was confirmed by a mostly partisan vote Saturday. At a swearing-in ceremony Monday at the White House, President Trump said that “what happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.”

He told Kavanaugh, “You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”

Attorneys for Ford, the first of three women to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, wrote to Wray directly with their concerns, calling it “inconceivable” that the FBI could conclude its investigation without interviewing Ford or Kavanaugh.

Also at Wednesday’s hearing, Wray said the FBI is engaged in thousands of terrorism investigations.

“Right now as I sit here, we’re currently investigating about 5,000 terrorism cases across America and around the world, and about 1,000 of those cases are homegrown violent extremists, and they’re in all 50 states,” Wray said, adding, “In the last year or so we’ve made hundreds of arrests of terrorism subjects.”