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How does the FBI’s Kavanaugh probe compare to the normal process?

The FBI has finished its background investigation into Brett Kavanaugh and now the Senate must decide. Democrats have charged that the probe was “incomplete” and a “sham,” while lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford complained that she and other witnesses were never interviewed. Judy Woodruff speaks to former FBI official Gregory Brower about the ways the White House guides the process.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to our lead story, the fate of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

    The FBI has now finished its investigation, and the Senate will decide.

    We will hear from senators shortly.

    But, first, we want to explore this latest investigation.

    Gregory Brower is a former FBI official who served under both former Director James Comey and current Director Christopher Wray. One of the offices he worked in provided legal guidance for FBI background investigations.

    Gregory Brower, thank you very much for joining us.

    What does it take for a background investigation to be thorough and to be credible?

  • Gregory Brower:

    Well, that is a process, in the normal course, that is dictated by the White House. It's a process that exists for the benefit of the White House, so as to allow the White House to fully vet potential nominees.

    And so with — both with respect to scope and duration, the White House does guide the FBI in that process. But the process is essentially run by FBI agents who are provided with an SF-86, an application from the potential nominee, that includes the names of neighbors, classmates, family members, a variety of different people from the person's life who agents then go out and interview.

    And those interviews can lead to other leads and other interviews. And when the process is completed, a report is compiled by the FBI, again, for the benefit of the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if there are limits placed on either the number of people or the subject matter, how can that — is that still considered a thorough investigation?

  • Gregory Brower:

    Well, it sort of depends.

    As I mentioned, in the normal course, the White House does place such limits on the — on the background investigation, but often there's a lot of back and forth between the bureau and the White House Counsel's Office.

    For example, if the White House Counsel's Office puts a 30-day limit on the background, but in the course of doing the background investigation and witness interviews, the FBI comes back to the White House and says, look, we have done what you have asked, but based upon what we found, we really need to do more, in my experience, the White House will generally say, go do more. We want to get the fullest picture we can about this potential nominee.

    And so here, of course, we have had anything but a normal process with respect to the reopening of the Kavanaugh background. Many observers thought that the one-week limit was too much, but it — I think the bigger issue now is the apparent fact that the bureau didn't interview Ford or Kavanaugh.

    And that has left a lot of people, including Senate Democrats, wondering just how complete this investigation was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why would that have been important to do? As you note, the FBI didn't re — didn't interview either Judge Kavanaugh or Ms. Blasey Ford.

  • Gregory Brower:

    Yes, it — I think most experienced investigators and prosecutors and, frankly, most ordinary laypeople observing this process would think that the reopening of this investigation, given the allegations by Dr. Ford, would at a minimum include interviews with both Ford and Kavanaugh.

    And so it's curious to me and to a lot of observers that that didn't happen. It's given the Democrats, obviously, a major process foul to talk about. And I'm just surprised, frankly, that the White House didn't direct that those two individuals be interviewed, so as to take that issue off the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are you saying it's typical, Mr. Brower, for the White House to specify who the FBI can talk, to say, you can talk to these people, but you can't talk to those?

  • Gregory Brower:

    No, that is not normal.

    As I mentioned, the bureau starts with a list of names that are provided by the potential nominee. And as interviews with those individuals perhaps lead to other individuals who are identified, they will — the agents will go and interview them.

    It's uncommon in my experience for the White House to micromanage that process. The overall way in which the White House typically manages the process is, they provide a deadline for the bureau to complete its work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying, because that means the FBI can then go and do whatever it deems — it thinks is necessary to get to — to get a thorough investigation done?

  • Gregory Brower:

    That's generally the goal for the bureau is to do as thorough an investigation as possible, again, for the benefit of the White House, so as to allow the White House and the president to have as much information as possible before publicly announcing a nomination.

    Here, of course, the new allegations emerged after the public announcement, and, in fact, after the first hearing, and so it made this a very different process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A very different process.

    Gregory Brower, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

  • Gregory Brower:

    Thank you.

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