President Trump last week finally ordered the FBI to begin an investigation into the mounting sexual assault allegations facing his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh—but initial reports posited that he had limited the scope and reach of agents working on the case. Feminists lawmakers and advocates are now rallying for transparency as the investigation moves forward.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first of now five women to come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh, told The Washington Post last month that Kavanaugh and his friend at the time, Mark Judge, attempted to rape her in high school. Trump was said to have only authorized the agency to question Judge, Kavanaugh’s other high school friend P.J. Smyth, Blasey Ford’s high school friend Leland Keyser and Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while they were both studying at Yale. Most notably, Julie Swetnick has not been included in the process, according to claims from her lawyer and news reports; Swetnick alleged in sworn testimony last week that Kavanaugh and Judge routinely participated in gang-rapes during high school parties, and that she was once victim of such an assault while attending a gathering where they were present.
According to FBI officials, this type of specific instruction from the White House is unusual. Chuck Rosenberg, the chief of staff under former FBI Director James B. Comey, said “the White House normally tells the F.B.I. what issue to examine, but would not tell the F.B.I. how to examine it, or with whom they should speak.”
In response, Senator Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Donald F. McGahn, Counsel of the President, and Christopher Wray, Director of the FBI, requesting a copy of the White House’s written directive and the names of additional witnesses expected to be summoned by the agency.
“On Friday, Chairman Grassley announced he would be requesting that the administration instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental background investigation with respect to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court,” Feinstein wrote. “Given the seriousness of the allegations before the Senate, I am writing to request that you provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with a copy of the written directive sent by the White House to the FBI.” Feinstein also requested the names of any additional witnesses or evidence that could be included in an expansion of the initial directive.
Feinstein and the eight other Democratic Senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee tasked with advising the President on judicial nominees—Richard Blumenthal, Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie K. Hirono, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar—sent another letter to McGahn and Wray Monday when the White House failed to respond stressing the importance of investigating every accusation of sexual assault.
“We ask that you confirm that the FBI background investigation will include the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick,” the lawmakers wrote, “and that the FBI will perform all logical steps related to these allegations, including interviewing other individuals who might have relevant information and gathering evidence related to the truthfulness of statements made in relation to these allegations.” The nine Senators attached a list of relevant witnesses who should be investigated.
“We ask that you notify us of the scope of the investigation and what the White House directed the FBI to investigate, as well as what steps the FBI will be taking,” the group asserted. “We also ask that, upon completion of your work, you provide copies of all witness interviews, a list of all witnesses who refused to cooperate in the Bureau’s investigation, and a full report to each member of the Senate. We believe that providing this important information to the Senate and American people is the best way to ensure public confidence in the results.”
President Trump spoke with reporters yesterday about opening up the investigation to involve more witnesses, including Swetnick, but stated that he would not consider the request to adapt the scope of the investigation. But Trump’s statements don’t satisfy the requests of Feinstein and her colleagues regardless: The directives handed down to the FBI by the White House remain in question, and feminists are still demanding answers.
“The public deserves to know what the scope of the FBI’s investigation is,” Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority, said in a statement. “In order for this to truly be a non-partisan, thorough investigation, there cannot be any restrictions on what the FBI can or cannot look into, and who they can or cannot interview, concerning sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. Furthermore, the White House cannot simply disregard input from Democrats and only listen to Republican members of the committee. That is by definition partisan.”
FM is asking its members to email their Senators to demand that the White House release the specific instructions they gave to the FBI and grant authority to the FBI to follow up with any necessary witnesses and evidence.
“Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick have bravely come forward, disclosed their identities and laid their entire lives on the line,” Smeal said. “Each one of them deserves to be heard, and all three of the allegations should be investigated to the fullest extent possible.”
Victoria Sheber is an editorial intern at Ms., a debate instructor at Windward School and a member of the JusticeCorps at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Victoria is currently a senior at UCLA studying American Literature & Culture and History; she is also the President of the American Association of University Women chapter on campus and Assistant Section Editor for Fem Newsmagazine. She loves to read and write about feminist literature.
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