The FBI investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh appears to be narrowly focused, according to top officials in public interviews on Sunday and CNN sources.
The investigation is the result of a dramatic day in Washington on Friday that by all appearances began with quick movement towards Kavanaugh’s confirmation and ended with a pause in the process while the FBI steps in. Following the agreement for the FBI to investigate Kavanaugh, the focus has moved to how the probe will be handled, its ultimate findings and whether it will put to rest fears about a lack of due diligence over the nominee for the nation’s highest court.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN that the FBI will interview a handful of people and only take direction from the White House, not the Senate.
Kavanaugh’s drinking history, which has come up in the allegations, is not part of the probe, he source said.
The source reiterated that the agents would make no conclusion about what witnesses tell them and would hand their results over to the White House. The source would not say if the direction the FBI received listed specific people or if it was to investigate specific allegations.
A source briefed on the matter said the White House gave the limited scope of the investigation to the FBI based on what the Senate asked.
President Donald Trump ordered the investigation on Friday after Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake pushed for the Senate to request the FBI review, and Trump said on Saturday that the FBI had “free rein” to conduct its probe.
Two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN, however, that Senate Republicans were working with White House counsel Don McGahn, who was “trying to make it as narrow as possible.”
Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the White House was respecting the independence of the FBI in the matter but stressed her belief that it should not grow into a “fishing expedition.”
“It will be limited in scope,” Conway said. “It’s meant to last one week, I believe beginning last Friday. And it will — it’s not meant to be a fishing expedition.”
Asked if McGahn had told the FBI who it could interview, Conway said, “I don’t think Don McGahn would do that, but I’ve not talked to him about it.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made similar points in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” where she said the White House was “not micromanaging” the FBI probe and that she was not aware of McGahn telling the FBI who it could interview.
“The White House counsel has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like and what the scope of the investigation is,” Sanders said.
A person familiar with the matter told CNN that Senate Republicans drafted the initial list of people it wanted the FBI to interview in the investigation and gave the list to the White House. The source noted that it was not a final list and that they were leaving open the possibility of additional witnesses.
The FBI has started investigating Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high schoolers. FBI agents are also expected to interview several people who Ford said were present at the party where the alleged assault took place, including Mark Judge, Patrick J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Ford has alleged Judge was present in the room with her and Kavanaugh when the nominee allegedly assaulted her. Judge has denied any memory of the assault Ford described.
Deborah Ramirez, another woman who came forward with allegations against Kavanaugh, has been contacted by the FBI, according to an attorney for Ramirez.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Kavanaugh supporter who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Flake, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski “wanted a limited review.”
“They wanted to talk — the FBI to talk with the witnesses that Dr. Ford named,” Graham said. “They want to talk to Ms. Ramirez, because she refused to talk to the committee. They’re going to Mark Judge, did you ever see Brett Kavanaugh drug women or engage in gang rape. I think that’s going to be the focus of it.”
Graham was referring to an allegation from another woman, Julie Swetnick, who has come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh and Judge. Judge said in a statement that he categorically denies Swetnick’s allegations.
As of Sunday morning, there was no indication that the FBI was going to talk to Swetnick.
Two Republican sources familiar with the matter have told CNN that the hope is that when investigators sit down with Judge, they will ask him not only about Ford’s allegations, but also about those made by Swetnick.