FBI Director Confirms Agency Sent Tips from Kavanaugh Tip Line to Trump White House Without Investigation
Trump White House also determined which witnesses the FBI should interview. 4,500 tips to FBI went uninvestigated.
Washington, DC – In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today received confirmation from FBI Director Christopher Wray that the FBI sent tips that the agency had collected about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Trump White House without investigation. The tips were collected through the FBI’s existing tip line as part of a supplemental background investigation after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged during Justice Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation process. Wray also confirmed that the Trump White House directed which witnesses the FBI was permitted to interview.
“You reviewed them for purposes of separating from tip line traffic but did not further investigate the ones that related to Kavanaugh, correct?” Whitehouse asked in reference to the more than 4,500 tips collected by the FBI.
Director Wray responded, “Correct.”
When asked by Whitehouse whether the FBI took direction from the Trump White House as to whom the FBI could question, Wray responded that the agency did take direction from the White House since it was the requesting entity.
Following the exchange, Whitehouse posted to Twitter, “Here’s a thought: nothing prevented Trump White House from using FBI tip line information to direct FBI investigation away from percipient or corroborating witnesses.”
For years since Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Whitehouse has doggedly sought answers from the FBI about its treatment of information submitted through the tip line. The FBI has provided delayed and incomplete information in response to the Senator’s oversight inquiries. In today’s hearing, Whitehouse pledged to submit a report to the Judiciary Committee outlining the FBI’s handling of the tip line. The FBI’s process for such investigations remains highly relevant because the Senate relies on the results of the FBI’s investigations to carry out its advice and consent duties for nominations.
Watch the full questioning here.
Whitehouse initially questioned Director Wray about the inadequate supplemental background investigation in a Judiciary Committee hearing in July 2019. Whitehouse noted that the only conduit for information potentially relevant to the allegations was the tip line, the product of which was apparently never pursued by the Bureau. During that 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.
The following month, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) 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 the Senators’ questions. The June 2021 letter from the FBI Office of Congressional Affairs revealed new information on the Kavanaugh investigation, including that the tip line received “over 4,500 tips, including phone calls and electronic submissions.” 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.
Last summer, Whitehouse and a number of colleagues wrote to Director Wray requesting additional information on the FBI’s supplemental background investigation of Justice Kavanaugh.
“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 wrote at the time.
Earlier this year, Whitehouse and his colleagues wrote again to Director Wray, Attorney General Garland, and the White House Counsel’s Office requesting answers to the Senators’ remaining outstanding questions, and providing an overview of what the Senators have learned to date. The Senators have not yet received any responses.
Meaghan McCabe, (401) 453-5294
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