President Donald Trump, who has attacked the FBI and the Justice Department relentlessly over the ongoing Russia investigation, announced last week that he is essentially putting his full faith in the bureau to probe the sexual-assault allegations that have been made against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation,” Trump reiterated on Monday. “Whatever that means, according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority. I want them to do that.”
To say that a lot is riding on this investigation would be an understatement. The Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate means that Republicans Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, who are on the fence about Kavanaugh, could sink his nomination with a “no” vote. And all three have said they will wait to read the FBI’s findings before they make a final decision. But who is actually doing the investigating? And why are they conducting a so-called “standard” background investigation for a high-level nominee who has been accused of sexual assault?
Four former FBI officials told me that, while background investigations are typically assigned to the newest special agents in a particular FBI field office, the Kavanaugh investigation is undoubtedly an “all hands on deck” moment. Newer agents are not necessarily confined to low-profile probes, says Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, who recalls doing a background investigation “as a brand-new agent” for “a very high-level White House appointment.” But the Kavanaugh investigation is in a league of its own. “I don’t think there’s a first-office agent anywhere within spitting distance of this,” James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, told me, referring to newbie agents. “Because this is likely a special inquiry, senior officials are going to handpick agents” from the Washington and Baltimore field offices, which have jurisdiction over the areas where the alleged incidents occurred, Gagliano says. One former FBI agent, Manny Gomez, emphasizes that when it comes to FBI background investigations, “it doesn’t get more high-profile than this,” adding that he would expect senior agents to have been dispatched to conduct the relevant interviews.