After New Details on Kavanaugh Investigation Surface, Senators Call on FBI for Answers on Handling of ‘Tip Line’
4,500 tips to FBI went uninvestigated following supplemental investigation, newly released FBI letter shows
Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray last evening requesting additional information on the FBI’s 2018 supplemental background investigation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The senators’ request follows a letter from the Bureau to Whitehouse and Coons revealing new details on the Kavanaugh background investigation, including that the FBI gathered over 4,500 tips in relation to the investigation without any apparent further action by FBI investigators. The Bureau also confirmed that tips from the tip line were instead provided to the Trump White House Counsel’s office, where their fate is unknown.
“The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information ‘highly relevant to . . . allegations’ of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, only to be ignored,” the senators write in their letter sent today. “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.”
Whitehouse and Coons initially raised the lackluster supplemental background investigation in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Director Wray in July 2019. Whitehouse observed during the hearing the clear lack of process through which the public or members of Congress could relay information to the FBI after the troubling allegations against Kavanaugh made headlines nationwide. Coons likewise pressed Wray for a clear procedure. As both senators noted, the only conduit for information potentially relevant to the allegations was a “tip line,” the product of which was apparently never pursued by the Bureau. During the hearing, Wray echoed Republican claims that the FBI conducted the investigation “by the book,” while asserting that supplemental background investigations are less rigorous than criminal and counterintelligence investigations.
On August 1, 2019, Coons and Whitehouse wrote to Wray asking for a complete picture of how the FBI handled the supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh. They asked why the FBI failed to contact witnesses whose names were provided to the FBI as possessing “highly relevant” information; how involved the Trump White House was in narrowing the scope of the investigation; whether the FBI had used a tip line in previous background investigations to manage incoming allegations and information regarding a nominee; and more.
Nearly two years later and after repeated follow-up requests, the FBI finally responded to Whitehouse and Coons’s questions. The June 30, 2021 letter from the FBI Office of Congressional Affairs revealed new information on the Kavanaugh investigation: that Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination “was the first time that the FBI set-up a tip line for a nominee undergoing Senate confirmation,” and that tip line received “over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions.” The FBI apparently pursued none of these tips. Instead, by the FBI’s own account, it merely “provided all relevant tips” to Trump’s Office of White House Counsel, the very office that had constrained and directed the limited investigation.
Whitehouse, Coons, Durbin, Leahy, Blumenthal, Hirono, and Booker call on the FBI to answer a range of outstanding questions surrounding the Bureau’s use of the tip line and the relevant information it yielded. The senators press the Bureau for any records and communications related to the tip line investigation, including “all relevant tips” described in Wray’s letter that the FBI “provided . . . to the Office of White House Counsel.”
Full text of the senators’ letter yesterday is available below. Also available as PDFs are:
July 21, 2021
The Honorable Christopher A. Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20535
Dear Director Wray:
Thank you for the FBI’s June 30, 2021 response to our August 1, 2019 letter regarding the supplemental background investigation of then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. Your letter confirms that the FBI’s tip line was a departure from past practice and that the FBI was politically constrained by the Trump White House. It also belies the former president’s insistence that his administration did not limit the Bureau’s investigation of Justice Kavanaugh, and his claim that he “want[ed] the FBI to interview whoever [sic] they deem appropriate, at their discretion.”
According to your letter, Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination “was the first time that the FBI set-up a tip line for a nominee undergoing Senate confirmation,” and that tip line received “over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions.” Your letter fails to explain how the FBI reviewed and assessed these tips or whether the Bureau conducted any interviews related to information received through the tip line or otherwise pursued the tips. Indeed, your letter does not describe any FBI investigation of the tips, and only states that the FBI “provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel,” the very office that appears to have constrained the FBI from conducting a thorough investigation. The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information “highly relevant to . . . allegations” of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, 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.
There remain questions unanswered from our August 2019 letter, and your June 2021 response raises significant additional questions:
1. Your letter notes that “the FBI follows the standard process established pursuant to a March 10 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Department of Justice and the White House.” Please provide a copy of that MOU.
2. Your letter notes that “Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination was the first time that the FBIs set-up a tip line for a nominee undergoing Senate Confirmation,” and states that “it was established at the direction of the FBI’s Security Division.” However, your letter does not identify or describe the policies or procedures that applied to the tip line. Therefore, please identify: (a) when the decision was made to use a tip line for Judge Kavanaugh’s investigation; (b) who the senior-most official authorizing the tip line was; (c) whether the tip line was set up through an already existing standard FBI open line or established as a dedicated independent tip line; (d) how the tip line was staffed (how many individuals and what level of training and experience was required); (e) how the “over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions” were recorded or preserved; (f) what policies or procedures governed or applied to the creation, operation, and documentation of the tip line; and (g) whether the White House Counsel’s instruction for any additional limited inquiry required or requested the use of a tip line.
3. Your letter notes that “[t]he FBI received over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions[,]” and that the FBI “provided all relevant tips to the Office of White House Counsel,”  but fails to explain how any individual tip was evaluated or categorized as “relevant” and how those tips were delivered to the White House. Therefore, please explain: (a) what criteria or standard applied to tips to determine relevancy; (b) how many tips the FBI deemed “relevant,” and how many tips the FBI “provided . . . to the Office of White House Counsel”; (c) whether FBI Security Division personnel or any other FBI personnel sorted, vetted, verified, or investigated the tips to determine whether they were relevant; (d) what policies or procedures governed the FBI process of investigating or vetting the tips; (e) the nature and extent of review or investigation per tip before they were made available to the White House Counsel; (f) how tips were formatted and delivered to the White House Counsel; and (g) whether the FBI maintained a copy or record of each tip after provision to the Office of White House Counsel.
4. Your letter indicated that the FBI interviewed ten individuals as part of several limited inquiries, but failed to explain whether these ten interviews were conducted as a result of tips received on the tip line. Therefore, please explain: (a) whether any potential witnesses were identified as having “relevant” information on the basis of tips received but not interviewed by the FBI; (b) if relevant witnesses were identified by the FBI through the tip line but not interviewed, explain the policy, procedure, or instruction, from the FBI, White House Counsel, or otherwise, that directed that witnesses with “relevant” information not be interviewed; (c) if the failure to interview was a matter of discretion, identify the individual responsible for making that determination.
5. Was the FBI directed by the White House not to interview either Dr. Blasey Ford or then-Judge Kavanaugh as part of its limited inquiries? If yes, please describe the directive and produce any relevant communications. If no, why did the FBI fail to interview Dr. Ford and then-Judge Kavanaugh?
We ask that you answer these questions no later than August 31, 2021, and to the extent not already requested above, promptly produce all records and communications related to the tip line investigation, including but not limited to: the White House-DOJ MOU referenced in your letter; all communications regarding the establishment and parameters of the tip line; all documents related to the selection and parameters of the ten interviews conducted as part of the supplemental background investigations; and “all relevant tips” described in your letter that the FBI “provided . . . to the Office of White House Counsel.” In order to minimize the discovery burden of this request and advance our comprehension of the process, we ask that someone familiar with the Kavanaugh investigations provide a briefing to explain what took place and the existence and nature of documents responsive to our requests. We ask further that the Department of Justice identify someone tasked with overseeing and facilitating the responses to these requests, given the long delay we have already experienced.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
CC: Hon. Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the United States
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