FACT CHECK: Did Trump Tell The FBI To Ignore The Allegation Of Sexual Assault Against Kavanaugh?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza claimed in a tweet that while speaking to the press, President Donald Trump told the FBI to ignore Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“No big deal: Just the president telling the FBI to ignore an allegation of sexual assault,” Cillizza said Tuesday.

Verdict: False

Trump did not direct the FBI to not investigate the allegations in statements to the press. He remained open to the possibility of an FBI investigation if the department expressed interest in doing so.

The FBI could investigate the incident as a part of its background check on Kavanaugh with authorization from Trump.

Fact Check:

Cillizza tweeted in response to CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who reported on Trump’s comments in the Oval Office with Polish President Andrzej Duda Tuesday.

“Trump says he still hasn’t spoken to Judge Kavanaugh, but says he knows he has @POTUS’ support … Says FBI doesn’t want to reopen its background investigation,” Knoller said in the tweet.

Trump’s full quote shows that he said the FBI should not investigate the allegations because it expressed reluctance to do so, but he showed openness to the FBI getting “involved” if it wanted.

“I don’t think the FBI really should be involved because they don’t want to be involved. If they wanted to be, I would certainly do that. But as you know, they say this is not really their thing,” Trump said. (RELATED: Did Kavanaugh’s Accuser Get Scathing Reviews On RateMyProfessors.com?)

CNN did not provide comment for this article.

Ford alleged in a July 30 letter to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Kavanaugh tried to “disrobe” her and put his hand over her mouth at a high school party when they were teenagers, more than 35 years ago. Feinstein referred the matter to the FBI after the Senate Judiciary Committee had completed its hearing for Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Monday that the committee would hold another hearing Sept. 24 where Kavanaugh and Ford could testify about the allegations, but her lawyers Tuesday called for an FBI investigation of the incident before she testifies at a committee hearing.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement to news outlets Monday night that the FBI forwarded the letter to the White House counsel’s office and indicated that it would not investigate the matter further.

“The FBI does not make any judgment about the credibility or significance of any allegation,” the DOJ statement said. “The purpose of a background investigation is to determine whether the nominee could pose a risk to the national security of the United States. The allegation does not involve any potential federal crime. The FBI’s role in such matters is to provide information for the use of the decision makers.”

The FBI could not investigate the incident as a federal crime because it lacks jurisdiction. Ford alleges that the incident took place at a home in Maryland.

“That’s a local crime. Unless it involves a federal official, or on federal land, or has some federal nexus, there’s just no jurisdiction to do it,” Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, explained on CNN Wednesday. Ford has not filed a report with local police.

Analysts note that Trump could ask the FBI to look into matter further, however, as a part of Kavanaugh’s background investigation for his Supreme Court nomination.

In the midst of the confirmation process for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, the White House ordered the FBI to investigate University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill’s claim that Thomas sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In Ford’s case, the FBI could interview those involved in the allegations for the benefit of decision makers, Swecker said. “But it’s all fairly thin. None of this would hold up in court,” he said.

The FBI investigated Hill’s claims before they were revealed to the public and the Senate Judiciary Committee assessed testimony on its own after the allegations leaked. Grassley argued in a letter to Democrats on the committee Wednesday that because Ford’s allegations are already public, it is appropriate for the Senate to evaluate her claims rather than the FBI.

While Trump has not asked the FBI to reopen its background investigation on Kavanaugh, he did not direct the FBI to “ignore” the allegations Tuesday.

Ford’s attorneys told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday that she “would be prepared to testify next week,” if the committee offers “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety.”

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter

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