The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has admitted that it had received over 4,500 tips about then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and took little action on them, handing off “relevant” tips to the Donald Trump-controlled White House.
In a letter responding to a two-year-old inquiry from Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) and Chris Coons (Delaware), Jill Tyson, an FBI assistant director, wrote that Kavanaugh’s nomination was the first time the FBI had set up a tip line for a Supreme Court nominee.
“The FBI received over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions,” Tyson wrote. “The Security Division section handling the [background investigation] and supplemental background investigations provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel.” The Office of the White House Counsel was then headed by Don McGahn.
Tyson says it was not the responsibility of the FBI to look into the tips, saying that the agency was conducting a background check rather than a criminal investigation. It’s unclear what the White House did with the tips.
Kavanaugh was facing accusations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before Congress during the Supreme Court justice’s confirmation process. A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, also stepped forward with allegations. Trump and Republicans were determined to get the then-president’s pick confirmed, however, and Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed by a slim margin.
The White House had specified at the time that it could only conduct a limited investigation of the allegations against Kavanaugh. Trump, meanwhile, called the allegations a “hoax set up by the Democrats” and even sent an apology to Kavanaugh for having to face the allegations, making the evidence-free claim that they’d been proven false.
Whitehouse sharply criticized the FBI in response to the letter on Thursday, and co-authored another letter to the agency inquiring about the tips and requesting more information.
“[Y]our letter does not describe any FBI investigation of the tips, and only states that the FBI ‘provided all relevant tips to the Office of the White House Counsel,’ the very office that appears to have constrained the FBI from conducting a thorough investigation,” reads the letter signed by Whitehouse, Coons and five other Democratic senators. “The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information … only to be ignored. If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all.” The senators’ letter requests more information regarding the tip line and the information it yielded.
Whitehouse also sharply criticized the FBI on Twitter for its handling of the investigation. “This long-delayed answer confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing,” he tweeted.
“[W]hen [FBI Director Chris] Wray said they followed procedures, he meant the ‘procedure’ of doing whatever Trump White House Counsel told them to do. That’s misleading as hell,” Whitehouse continued. “I charged that the ‘tip line’ was really a tip dump, with all the tips going straight into the dumpster without investigation. In fact it was a tip dump where all the tips went straight to White House Counsel without investigation. Same difference.”
Blasey Ford’s lawyers also criticized the FBI for passing off the tips, saying that the new information shows that the investigation was “a sham and a major institutional failure,” per the Daily Beast.