The White House has quietly authorized the FBI to interview anyone it deems necessary in its probe into sexual misconduct accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, a person familiar with the matter said Monday, as President Trump gave mixed messages about the nature of the probe.
The directive was issued in the past 24 hours amid widespread Democratic criticism that the administration was trying to limit the investigation into claims that Trump’s Supreme Court pick sexually assaulted at least three women, the source said.
The new order permits the FBI to speak with anyone it wants as long as it wraps up the inquiry by Friday, according to the source.
Two people briefed on the matter told The New York Times that the new directive was issued after the bureau had already interviewed the four witnesses it had been asked to speak with: Kavanaugh pals Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth; Leland Keyser, a friend of Kavanaugh’s main accuser Christine Blasey Ford, and Deborah Ramirez, who also alleges she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh.
The revised directive comes three days after Trump ordered the FBI to conduct a limited probe into the allegations.
Speaking at a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Trump didn’t give any clear indication of who would be interviewed, saying only he wants it to be “comprehensive.”
“I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation,” Trump said. “I want them to do that. I want it to be comprehensive.”
But, in the same breath, Trump said he wanted the investigation over with “quickly.”
“It’s unfair to him at this point,” Trump said of Kavanaugh. “What his wife is going through, what his beautiful children are going through is not describable.”
A source close to Kavanaugh’s confirmation process said the FBI could wrap up the investigation as early as Wednesday.
Trump also said he would leave it up to Senate Republican leadership to dictate the terms of the investigation. Several GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), had previously said they wanted a limited investigation that took testimony only from Judge and a handful of other alleged witnesses.
By the same token, Trump said he wouldn’t be opposed to the FBI interviewing Kavanaugh himself as well as some of his other accusers who haven’t yet been approached by the bureau, including Ford and Julie Swetnick.
“It wouldn’t bother me at all,” Trump said. “Now I don’t know all three of the accusers. Certainly I imagine they’re going to interview two. The third one I don’t know much about.”
Swetnick, the third accuser Trump referenced, claims Kavanaugh was present when she was “gang” raped at a drunken high school party. All of Kavanaugh’s accusers say he was drunk during the alleged attacks, and several of his former classmates have since come forward saying that the 53-year-old conservative had a tendency to drink too much in his teens and early 20s.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Illinois, said it was “odd” for the White House to limit the FBI’s investigative abilities in the first place.
“They have the right to do it, but given that this is of great importance for both parties and the American people, it seems strange to restrict the scope,” Mariotti told the Daily News.
Also Monday, allegations surfaced that Kavanaugh may have been involved in a bloody bar fight while he was an undergraduate at Yale University in September 1985.
According to a New Haven Police Department report obtained by The Times, Kavanaugh was questioned by officers after he was accused of throwing ice at victim Dom Cozzolino while drinking at a local bar. After tossing the ice, a witness told responding officers that Kavanaugh’s friend Chris Dudley hit Cozzolino in the head with a glass, leaving him “bleeding from the right ear,” according to the report.
Dudley, a Yale basketball player who went on to play in the NBA, denied the accusation, according to the police report, and there’s no indication that charges were filed.
A lawyer for Kavanaugh did not respond to a request for comment. The bar brawl development came on the same day as the Supreme Court began its fall term with only eight justices on the bench.
During the Rose Garden appearance, Trump said he would keep a “very open mind” as the FBI prepares to deliver its findings to the Senate.
“Certainly if they find something I’m going to take that into consideration,” Trump said.
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the decades-old sexual misconduct allegations and says he won’t cave to Democratic demands to withdraw his nomination.
Toward the end of his off-the-cuff media appearance Monday, Trump made a throwaway reference to a Democratic senator who he claimed has been in “very bad situations.”
Asked to identify the senator, Trump demurred.
“I think I’ll save it for a book, like everybody else,” Trump said. “I’m not giving it to you.”
The President also conceded that his beleaguered high court nominee had a drinking problem in his youth — an admission that directly contradicted Kavanaugh’s own tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
“I watched that hearing and I watched a man saying that he did have difficulty as a young man with drink,” Trump said. “I graduated from high school and while I did not drink, I saw a lot of people drinking. They drink beer and go crazy.”