FBI Director Wray contradicts Trump: Kavanaugh investigation was “limited” by White House

Testifying before the Senate, Christopher Wray confirmed that the investigation was “limited in scope,” despite claims to the contrary.

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When it was announced that the FBI would investigate the allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed the FBI would have broad discretion in who they could interview in their effort to find the truth.

But it now turns out the president’s claims that the Bureau had broad discretion to find the truth in the allegations against Kavanaugh were simply lies. Christopher Wray, the FBI director, directly contradicted those statements when he confirmed before a Senate committee hearing Wednesday morning that the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was “limited in scope” by the White House.

Quizzed by California senator Kamala Harris, who is the only senator to sit on both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, before which Wray was testifying, the FBI director also refused to answer whether his agency looked into allegations that Kavanaugh lied to the Senate during his confirmation hearing.

The investigation was launched following a request from Republican senator Jeff Flake, who conditioned his vote for Kavanaugh to proceed out of the Judiciary Committee on the FBI investigating the claims made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who detailed in riveting testimony her allegation that Kavanaugh held her down and covered her mouth as he groped her and tried to remove her clothing at a party when they were both in high school.

Kavanaugh strenuously denies Ford’s allegations, as well as those made by several other women against him, but the public pressure was enough for Flake to call for the FBI to investigate the claims.

At the time, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president “has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like, and what the scope of the investigation is.”

“This is … a Senate process,” Sanders said on Fox News on the Sunday after the investigation was announced, after concerns emerged that the White House was “micromanaging” the investigation and imposing a limited scope. “It has been from the beginning. And we’re letting the Senate continue to dictate what the terms look like.”

But it was clear from Wray’s testimony today that she, and the president, were lying.

“When the FBI was given the direction to do the background investigation as it related to Dr Ford’s allegations, that’s an instruction that goes to the FBI from the White House, not the Senate, correct?” Harris asked Wray.

“That is correct,” Wray answered.

“And when the FBI was directed to do that, was the FBI given full discretion or was the scope of the investigation limited by the direction given by the White House?” Harris asked.

Wray said that he wanted to be “careful” with his answer. “I’m not asking for the content of the investigation,” Harris said.

“Unlike most investigations – traditional criminal investigations, national security investigations – a background investigation is very different,” Wray said. “Our only authority is as required by the adjudicating authority – in this case, the White House.”

“So in this situation, was your direction limited in scope or were you given full discretion to investigate whatever your agency thought appropriate to figure out what happened,” Harris asked again.

“I think I would say that our investigation here, our supplemental update to the previous background investigation, was limited in scope,” Wray said, adding that this was standard procedure for a background investigation.

Asked whether the written instruction from the White House to the FBI could be provided to the committee, Wray dissembled, saying he would “have to see what is appropriate.”

“Do you know who determined that the FBI would not interview Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford or the list of 40 plus witnesses?” Harris asked.

“Again I would say that as is standard the investigation was very specific in scope, limited in scope, and that that is the usual process and that my folks have assured me that the usual procedure was followed,” Wray said.

Really, this just confirms what we already knew. Immediately after the investigation was announced, sources told NBC that the White House had given the FBI a list of only four witnesses to interview that did not include either Dr Ford or Judge Kavanaugh, who was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice by a 50-48 vote on Saturday despite mounting protests.

In response to NBC’s story, Trump tweeted: “NBC News incorrectly reported (as usual) that I was limiting the FBI investigation of Judge Kavanaugh, and witnesses, only to certain people. Actually, I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion. Please correct your reporting!”

But Wray’s testimony proves what Senate Democrats had already correctly surmised: that despite Trump’s claims, the investigation was a limited exercise designed specifically to give political cover for Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh. As senator Bob Menendez succinctly put it, the investigation was “bullshit”. Now we know that to be true.


Nicky Woolf was the launch editor for New Statesman America and has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.