President Donald Trump said he wants the FBI to conduct a comprehensive and quick investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against his U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but not a “witch hunt.”
Trump, speaking three days after he ordered the investigation, said he instructed White House counsel Don McGahn over the weekend to give the FBI free rein to interview whatever witnesses the agency deems necessary.
The FBI will be guided by what Senate Republicans want examined, added Trump, who ordered the probe of allegations against Kavanaugh after Senate Republican leaders were pressed by Senator Jeff Flake and other moderates in Trump’s own party.
“I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation. Whatever that means, according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority, I want them to do that,” Trump said at a White House news conference, although he added that “I’d like it to go quickly.”
Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor from California, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when they were both high school students in Maryland. Kavanaugh denied her allegation, as well as accusations made by two other women, and accused Democrats of making him the victim of a political “hit.”
Some Democrats raised questions about the investigation’s scope after weekend reports that Senate Republicans were working with the White House to limit the number of witnesses – set at four initially – and exclude the third woman’s allegation.
Nine of the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Monday to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Don McGahn listing 24 people who they said should be interviewed by the FBI, and urged that the investigation assess all three allegations of sexual misconduct. The Democrat who did not sign the letter was Senator Chris Coons, who was instrumental in Flake’s request for a FBI probe.
“I think the FBI should interview anybody that they want, within reason,” Trump added, including all three accusers as well as Kavanaugh himself.
“We don’t want to go on a witch hunt, do we?” Trump asked, mentioning a term he has used in the past to denigrate Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The FBI declined to comment.
Trump expressed sympathy and support for his nominee, a conservative federal appeals court judge whose confirmation prospects in the Senate looked smooth until the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced last month.
Questions emerged over the weekend about the scope of the FBI investigation, which the Judiciary Committee sought on Friday after it approved Kavanaugh’s nomination along party lines, sending the matter to the full Senate.
“It has to be well beyond the initial very narrow scope of four witnesses, four individuals being interviewed,” Coons said.
The panel’s Democrats also asked the FBI to provide copies of all witness interviews and a list of all witnesses who refuse to cooperate.
Trump called Kavanaugh a good man who has been treated unfairly. Trump also said he believes Kavanaugh did not lie during his Judiciary Committee testimony about the extent of his drinking in high school and college.
On the other hand, Trump said, if the FBI uncovers something, “I’ll take that into consideration. I have a very open mind.” Trump did not elaborate.
Supreme Court nominations require Senate confirmation. Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate by a narrow 51-49 margin. That means that if all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, Trump could not afford to have more than one Republican senator oppose his nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
Flake, backed by fellow moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, asked for the FBI investigation. Democrats previously had demanded an FBI probe, but Trump and other Republicans had opposed the move.
Flake said he was in close touch with McGahn’s office to ensure the investigation is thorough.
“We certainly want the FBI to do a real investigation and we are working to make sure that happens,” Flake said at an event in Boston. “It does no good to have an investigation that gives us more cover, for example. We actually need to find out what we can find out.”