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What the FBI might be looking for in the Brett Kavanaugh probe

Putting aside politics, what’s happening behind the scenes of the FBI's background investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh? Amna Nawaz learns more from retired FBI agent Frank Montoya.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now a step back from the politics of this particular FBI probe, and a closer look at what might be happening with the investigation outside of the public eye.

    Frank Montoya worked in various roles during his 25 years at the bureau, including since leading the FBI's Seattle and Honolulu divisions.

    He joins me today from Salt Lake City.

    Mr. Montoya, thank you for being with us.

    I want to ask you about the scope of what the FBI could be looking into right now. Talk to me a little bit about what FBI investigators would be doing in an investigation like this right now.

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    Well, first and foremost, they would be talking to as many people as they can.

    I think it was important that the doors were opened earlier this afternoon in terms of what and who they can pursue and in their pursuit of information. And keep in mind, this is a background investigation, not so much a criminal investigation.

    So it's not about proving who did what. It's more about finding or disproving or not finding derogatory information. So there will be talking to, among others, Deborah Ramirez, Dr. Ford, Mark Judge, some of these others that have been identified publicly as individuals who may have information.

    It could also extend to individuals who are former classmates at Yale who can talk about more than just potential sexual assaults, but his drinking habits, his other kinds of behaviors perhaps when he had drank too much.

    So there are a lot of people that they can talk to, and those people can tell them about others that they can then follow up with.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned that word derogatory. Explain to me the significance of that in terms of what kind of questions the FBI investigators are asking when they talk to these people.

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    Yes, another great question, because, again, this is about determining if this individual is suitable for the job for which he has nominated.

    So they're going to look at character. They're going to look at associations. They're going to look at his reputation, loyalty to the United States, not to an individual, biases or potential biases, ability to do this job, and then, of course, financial abilities, alcohol and drug abuse — potential for alcohol and drug abuse.

    When I was a brand-new agent, gosh, in January of 1991, we learned how to do these things. And they taught us that the acronym to help remember the kinds of things that we're supposed to talk that was CARLABFAD.

    And that was, what, 30 or 27 years ago, and I still remember it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We heard the president earlier asked about this as well, whether or not he thought Judge Kavanaugh himself should be interviewed.

    Does the FBI need to talk to Judge Kavanaugh in order to complete this investigation?

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    Another great question.

    And whether it's Kavanaugh or it's Dr. Ford, there's all kinds of publicly available testimony that can be reviewed for potential lead information.

    But, again, I think this is really about determining whether or not there is more derogatory information out there. Talking to him about that is not going to get them there. Talking to folks like Dr. Ford, or Deborah Ramirez, or even Julie Swetnick, that's where the rubber meets the road in this background investigation now.

    Another thing that I would add is that, if somebody has information and they haven't been spoken to yet, that they are, by all means free to call the FBI or to go to a local field office and provide that information.

    Anything and everything about this matter will be considered and reported.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you can imagine there must be people who knew him in some capacity or the other from school, from his professional life who may be doing exactly what you suggested then, reaching out to their local FBI office.

    Does the FBI have an obligation to try to speak to every single one of those people to try to see this through?

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    Well, and that's the big challenge in this particular investigation, because there are on a time crunch. They have seven days.

    So they're pretty limited in terms of what they can do. They have the resources to do it. But there's been a lot of talk about how this is the seven background investigation that Kavanaugh has faced. The fact of the matter is, most of these investigations, when they are conducted, they're based on information that the candidate for the job or the clearance provides to the FBI.

    When we learn about derogatory information, it's usually from a records check or from somebody who heard that we were talking to somebody about an individual, and then they come forward and provide that information, because typically when an individual fills out their SF-86, they're not going to list references who are going to talk badly about them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned those previous investigations.

    And this comes up again and again for supporters of Judge Kavanaugh. It begs the question, how did none of this information come up in any of those previous probes?

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    As I mentioned, when folks fill out their SF-86, they are listing who we — they want us to talk to.

    And so, when something like this comes up, it usually is in the manner in which this allegation — or these allegations did arise. It's typically not after so much time has transpired.

    But I would also point out that, in the vast majority of our investigations, whether they are — well, our background investigations, whether they're for an agent who — or a prospective agent who wants to join the organization or a federal judge, that they don't easily have this kind of profile.

    They aren't broadcast to the entire nation, the whole world, for that matter. And so, in this respect, I mean, we're talking about a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. It's not surprising that something like this would come out even as long after it did.

    I think that it's actually good that it did come out, because if we're going to put this individual on the Supreme Court, we need to know that they have the kind of character, the kind of background that supports that position.

    There's also the question of temperament in terms of how they reacted to the kinds of criticisms that we have seen. We expect our judges to be objective, to be able to be above the fray, so to speak.

    And so this is all, I think, in the end, as difficult as it has been, it's also healthy for our system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Frank Montoya, thank you for your time.

  • Frank Montoya Jr.:

    Thank you.

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