President Donald Trump has ordered the FBI to reopen Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s background investigation after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. Just what the FBI will investigate remains a mystery.
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the White House to ask the FBI to conduct the supplemental investigation, which will be “limited to current credible allegations” and must be done by Oct. 5.
An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the investigation, including how many agents would be assigned and whether it could be completed in a week.
A look at what a reopened FBI investigation would and wouldn’t do:
WHAT IS THE FBI’S ROLE?
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees but does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations.
Investigators compile information about a nominee’s past and provide findings to the agency that requested the background check; in this case, it’s the White House. The information would be added to the nominee’s background file, which is available to senators.
Typically, background investigations do not go back decades, but that’s what is needed in Kavanaugh’s case because the allegations are about incidents said to have happened during his teenage years. Kavanaugh is now 53.
COULD THE FBI INVESTIGATION BRING CLARITY TO WHAT HAPPENED?
Perhaps. The FBI has wide discretion in determining the scope of the investigation.
The committee questioned Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford during a hearing Thursday; other potential witnesses have submitted sworn statements. FBI agents could interview the other accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details.
David Gomez, a former FBI counterterrorism supervisor in Seattle, said officials at FBI headquarters typically will divide up leads that get assigned to different field offices across the country for further investigation and will set a quick deadline. The local offices generally will assign as many staff as necessary to pursue those leads.
A good agent, he said, “would address Kavanaugh’s behavior and demeanor and credibility during his high school years.”
Kavanaugh’s high school friend, Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, said Friday that he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will “confidentially investigate” sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh.
Both Judge and Kavanaugh have vehemently denied any allegation of misconduct.
Lawyers for PJ Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, two others who Ford said were in the house when she was attacked, have said their clients are willing to cooperate “fully” with the FBI’s investigation.
Separately, the FBI has contacted a Kavanaugh classmate from Yale for an interview, and Deborah Ramirez has agreed to cooperate, according to her lawyer. Ramirez has told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were both students in the 1980s. Kavanaugh has denied the accusation.
CAN AN INVESTIGATION BE DONE IN A WEEK?
Experts say the work can be done in a matter of days in most circumstances.
Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director, said background investigations done by the bureau typically have short turnaround times because the requesting agency needs the information quickly in order to make a decision on the nominee.
The FBI cannot force someone to talk to them as part of the process.
“Based on what we publicly know as far as the universe of people, I don’t see any reason why the FBI could not complete an investigation within one week,” said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer and expert in security clearance and background investigations. “Remember, they’re not reaching a decision or recommendation. They are just compiling the investigation and reporting on it.”
WHAT DOES KAVANAUGH SAY ABOUT THIS?
Kavanaugh wouldn’t answer directly when he was asked Thursday if he would agree to an FBI investigation, but said he would do whatever the Judiciary Committee wanted.
In a statement released by the White House on Friday, Kavanaugh said he was interviewed by the FBI throughout the selection process and participated in several background calls with the Senate.
“I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate,” he said.