Sen. Grassley: Committee, Not FBI, Will Investigate Kavanaugh Allegations

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Wednesday that the Committee stands ready to hear the testimony of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault as a teenager, in whatever forum she chooses, but that it is the committee, not the FBI, that will be investigating those allegations.

That came in a letter to Ford's lawyers, who had indicated that Ford would not participate in a scheduled Monday (Sept. 24*) hearing on the allegations until an FBI investigation had been conducted, an investigation Ford 's attorneys suggested could not be completed before Monday.

Democrats on the Hill have called for a longer pause and an FBI investigation.

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Grassley did say the FBI had "supplemented" Kavanaugh's background file in light of the allegations raised, but did not say how or elaborate further.

But as for a separate FBI investigation beyond its traditional background checks of nominees, Grassley said that was not happening.

Grassley said the Ford testimony could come in public or private settings or staff-led interviews.

“I sincerely hope that Dr. Ford will accept my invitation to do so, either privately or publicly, on Monday," Grassley said of the various options for giving the committee her story. "In the meantime, my staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at a time and place convenient to her,” Grassley said in the letter, a copy of which was supplied to B&C.

Ford alleges that, as high school students, Kavanaugh forced her into a room and groped her over her clothing before she was able to get away.

"I certainly understand and respect Dr. Ford’s desire for an investigation of her allegations. That is precisely what the Senate is doing. That is why our investigators have asked to speak with your client. That is why I have invited Dr. Ford to tell her story to the Senate and, if she so chooses, to the American people. It is not the FBI’s role to investigate a matter such as this... Nor is it tasked with investigating a matter simply because the Committee deems it important. The Constitution assigns the Senate, and only the Senate, with the task of advising the President on his nominee and consenting to the nomination if the circumstances merit."

Grassley suggested he could not enlist the FBI, though ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has suggested that would simply be an extension of its background check role.

"We have no power to commandeer an Executive Branch agency into conducting our due diligence," said Grassley.

"The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone."

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Ford's prepared testimony is due to the committee by Friday if she is testifying on Monday, so if that does not show up, that is a good sign she won't be there.

Kavanaugh is well known in communications circles as a judge on the D.C. federal appeals court, which oversees FCC decision challenges. Kavanaugh is on the record saying the FCC's 2015 Open Internet order was illegal and should have been overturned.

While the FCC has repealed that order, a request that the Supreme Court hear the ISP appeal of the 2015 regulatory order remains before the High Court, though it is unclear whether that court will grant that hearing. If so, and if Kavanaugh's nomination is confirmed, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has asked him to recuse himself, though Kavanaugh was not willing to agree to that, saying at his hearing that he would not comment on any decision that could come before the high court.

* The Grassley letter actually says Monday, Sept. 25, so either the date is off by a day or the hearing has been moved to Tuesday. Update: A spokesperson for the committee says the date was wrong, it remains Monday, Sept. 24, and a revised letter has been sent to Ford's attorneys.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.