The national drama began Thursday when Kavanaugh testified before the Judiciary Committee and adamantly denied the psychologist Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that he had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school in the early 1980s. Nielsen estimated that television viewers exceeded 20 million people, matching the audience for a playoff football game or the Academy Awards. Travelers told of row after row of airplane passengers with the hearing on their in-flight screens.
On Friday, retiring Senator Jeff Flake’s last-minute “gentleman’s agreement” with the Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware led to a reopened FBI investigation with a one-week timeline, delaying a scheduled Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. The GOP senator, an outspoken Donald Trump critic who decided not to seek reelection in the face of a likely primary defeat, told The Atlantic that he hoped a week of inquiry could “bring a little unity” and leave Democrats feeling that “this process was worthy of the institution.”
On Saturday, NBC reported that Julie Swetnick, a woman represented by the lawyer Michael Avenatti who has accused Kavanaugh of being present when she was sexually assaulted as a high-school student, would not be interviewed and that “the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview.” The Wall Street Journal also reported that anonymous sources said the investigation was being “tightly controlled” by the White House, excluding Swetnick. While senators had requested an investigation “limited to current credible allegations,” the expectation was that investigators would make their own decisions about whom to interview.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, quickly tweeted, “The FBI’s hands must not be tied in this investigation. We need the facts.”
But within hours of the NBC report, President Trump told reporters the FBI had “free rein” in the investigation. He later tweeted a rebuttal that criticized NBC and added, “I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion.”
So what’s the truth? Is the White House setting limits on who can be interviewed?
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking on Fox News Sunday, also denied political control and pointed to the Senate’s request for a limited investigation: “The White House is not micromanaging this process. The Senate is dictating the terms. They laid out the request. We’ve opened it up. As you heard the president say, do what you need to do. The FBI, this is what they do, and we’re out of the way and letting them do exactly that.” But she also said, “This can’t become a fishing expedition like the Democrats would like to see it be.”
When the host, Chris Wallace, asked if the White House counsel had given a list of allowed witnesses, Sanders replied, “Not that I’m aware of. The White House counsel has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like and what the scope of the investigation is.”