A look at what the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation will entail

Former agent 'confident' FBI can complete investigation in a week's time

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 27: Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. (Photo By Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has ordered the FBI to reopen Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's background investigation after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. But what exactly the FBI will investigate still remains a mystery.

The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the White House to ask the FBI to conduct the supplemental investigation, which will be "limited to current credible allegations" and must be done by Oct. 5.

An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the investigation, including how many agents would be assigned and whether it could be completed in a week.

Here's a look at what a reopened FBI investigation would and wouldn't do:

What is the FBI's role?

The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations.

Investigators compile information about the nominee's past and then provide findings to the agency that requested the background check -- in this case, the White House. The information would then be added to the nominee's background file, which is available to senators.

Typically, background investigations do not go back decades, as will be needed in Kavanaugh's case because the allegations are about things said to have happened during his teenage years.

In the last two years, the FBI had to tip-toe through cloudy waters when the director was accused of inserting himself into national politics during the presidential campaign and was eventually fired.

Sources who have worked at the bureau told News4Jax that the FBI should never be a political pawn, but it feels like that's the case right now. 

Could the FBI investigation bring clarity to what happened?

Perhaps. The FBI has wide discretion in determining the scope of the investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has questioned Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, and other potential witnesses have submitted sworn statements. But FBI agents could interview the other accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details.

David Gomez, a former FBI counterterrorism supervisor in Seattle, said typically FBI headquarters will divide up leads that get assigned to different field offices across the U.S. for further investigation and are assigned a quick deadline. The local offices will generally assign as many staff as necessary to pursue those leads.

A good agent, he said, "would address Kavanaugh's behavior and demeanor and credibility during his high school years."

Kavanaugh's high school friend, Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, said Friday that he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh.

Both Judge and Kavanaugh have vehemently denied any allegation of misconduct.

An attorney for PJ Smyth, another person who Ford said was in the house when she was attacked, said his client "is happy to cooperate fully with this FBI investigation."

Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser is a retired FBI agent. She told News4Jax that she believes the FBI will be looking at Ford's testimony.

"They're going to be really working out word for word from that incident to determine whether there are other people who can corroborate her story. So if other people come forward and suggest that this is a pattern of behavior, the FBI will look at that too," Glasser said. "But this is not a criminal investigation, so we're really going to rely on people to voluntarily talk to the FBI about what they perceive as potential character issues for Judge Kavanaugh."

Can an investigation be done in a week?

Experts say the work can be done in a matter of days in most circumstances.

Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director, said background investigations done by the bureau typically have short turnaround times because the requesting agency needs the information quickly in order to make a decision on the nominee.

The FBI cannot force someone to talk to them as part of the process.

"Based on what we publicly know as far as the universe of people, I don't see any reason why the FBI could not complete an investigation within one week," said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer and expert in security clearance and background investigations. "Remember, they're not reaching a decision or recommendation. They are just compiling the investigation and reporting on it."

Glasser, the former FBI agent, said that she's confident that the bureau can do its work in a week's time. 

"They'll put all their resources they need to on it," Glasser said Friday. "I do know it's a fairly straightforward process in terms of talking to people, talking to associates, looking at any potential records that might exist. There were some things that I heard in the testimony yesterday that caught my attention that could be verified. So they will be looking at all those things, but they will be doing it with an objective eye."

Glasser said typical background checks focus on people's adult life, and that this area is not one the FBI has historically examined too closely.

What does Kavanaugh say about this?

Kavanaugh wouldn't answer directly when he was asked Thursday if he would agree to an FBI investigation, but said he would do whatever the Judiciary Committee wanted.

In a statement released by the White House on Friday, Kavanaugh said he was interviewed by the FBI throughout the selection process and participated in several background calls with the Senate.

"I've done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate," he said.

About the Authors: