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FBI ignored tips on Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Democrats charge

4 minute read

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - Seven Democratic senators on Thursday said that newly released materials show the FBI failed to fully investigate sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated to the court in 2018.

The senators, including Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Coons, said a letter they received from the FBI last month shows the agency gathered over 4,500 tips relating to Kavanaugh without any apparent further action by investigators.

According to that June 30 letter, written by FBI Assistant Director Jill Tyson, the most "relevant" of the 4,500 tips were referred to lawyers in President Donald Trump's White House whose handling of them remains unclear.

The agency was conducting a background check, not a criminal investigation, so "the authorities, policies, and procedures used to investigate criminal matters did not apply," Tyson's letter said.

"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 Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray sent on Wednesday night, which they released to the public on Thursday.

Kavanaugh was the second of three jurists Republican Trump appointed to lifetime spots on the top court during his term, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

His nomination blew up into a personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in Washington in 1982. Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

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U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. January 20, 2021. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS

Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump, ceding to a request from Senate Republican leaders, ordered the FBI to conduct a background investigation of Kavanaugh.

The FBI completed its probe after speaking with 10 people, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Potentially key witnesses, including Ford and Kavanaugh, were never interviewed as part of the investigation, and Democratic lawmakers have long said the probe was a sham.

Democrats have also alleged that the Justice Department, which the FBI is part of, was politicized under Trump and sought to advance the former president's interests.

A FBI spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Beth Wilkinson, a lawyer who represented Kavanaugh during his confirmation battle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ford's lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, said in a statement that the new revelations show the FBI investigation was of limited value.

"Because the FBI and Trump's White House Counsel hid the ball on this, we do not know how many of those 4,500 tips were consequential, how many of those tips supported Dr. Ford's testimony, or how many showed that Kavanaugh perjured himself during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee," the lawyers said.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O'Brien
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