Senate Democrats say FBI ignored tips in Brett Kavanaugh investigation

Here at Daily Kos, we all suffered through Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, recalling his indignant behavior while questioned, especially as juxtaposed with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s grace and clarity. We, too, likely recall that Donald Trump was relentless in pushing Kavanaugh's confirmation through. Recently, as Daily Kos covered, Michael Wolff revealed a conversation he supposedly had with Trump in his new book, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, in which Trump took credit for essentially “saving” Kavanaugh's life and expressed feeling disappointed in him in the end, saying he hasn’t had the “courage” to be a great justice.

This background lends an interesting light to a new report from The New York Times, in which fresh details on the FBI’s inquiry into Kavanaugh are causing serious—and legitimate—upset among some Senate Democrats. As covered by the Times, Jill Tyson, an assistant director at the FBI, wrote a letter to Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Coons explaining that the most “relevant” of more than 4,000 tips the agency received while investigating Kavanaugh were actually passed on to White House lawyers in the Trump administration. It’s unclear how those tips were handled, and Senate Democrats want answers.

For background, the letter from Tyson was actually written in response to a letter sent by Whitehouse and Coons back in 2019, in which they wanted more clarity on how the supplemental background check into Kavanaugh actually went down. Tyson’s letter stressed that the agency did not conduct a criminal investigation, only a background check. To Democrats, the agency failed in its duty to fully investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct—from Ford as well as subsequent allegations from two women who accused him of sexual misconduct—during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.

On Wednesday, seven Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee replied to the letter asking for more information about how Trump’s White House handled the investigation and those thousand of tips. Democrats who signed on to the letter included Sens. Cory Booker, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Patrick Leahy, Mazie Hirono, and, of course, Whitehouse and Coons. 

Whitehouse spoke to the Times in an interview about the letter. Whitehouse told the Times Tyson’s response suggested the agency ran a “fake tip line” with responses never being “properly reviewed,” adding he assumed it was not even done in “good faith.” 

In a letter the Democratic lawmakers sent on Wednesday, and which was released to the public on Thursday, they argued: “If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all.”

As we know, neither Ford nor Kavanaugh were interviewed as part of the investigation. According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the FBI ultimately interviewed just 10 people before closing its investigation. Democrats have long suggested the investigation into Kavanaugh was incomplete and politically contained. 

Barrett is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee, so Democrats have nothing to lose in this fight

For decades, the American public has been working under the assumption that if someone were nominated to the Supreme Court, that person must be qualified. How else could that individual get to a place where they would even be considered for nomination? That slipped a little with President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork, who ended up being rejected even by Republicans—enough of them to sink his confirmation. Everything's changed with Donald Trump, however. First Republicans broke all norms and regular procedures by refusing to even talk to President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, for more than half a year before the election. Then we had the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, where the whole country could see the blunt force Republicans would employ to get a guy everyone recognized as the frat-boy bully of their school nightmares onto the court.

Now we've got the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, and an electorate not giving her the benefit of the doubt as to qualifications. CNN reports: "Initial reactions to Barrett are among the worst in CNN and Gallup polling on 12 potential justices dating back to Robert Bork, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan and rejected by the Senate." Barrett has the distinction, along with Kavanaugh, of being "the only two for whom opposition outweighed support in initial polling on their nominations." A plurality does not want her confirmed, 46% to 42%, and 56% say she should recuse herself from any cases resulting from the 2020 election, including 32% of Republicans. Which leads us to the fight Democrats have to have against her confirmation. There's absolutely no downside to Democrats doing everything in their power, limited though it may be, to fight this.

Most of that fight is going to have to be in the Judiciary Committee. The No. 1 thing Democrats should be doing is boycotting the hearings and refusing to allow Lindsey Graham, the chairman, a quorum to conduct most of his business. With any number of Republican senators unavailable at any given time because of quarantine, Democrats need to be nimble and flexible in when they choose to participate. But senators, Democratic or Republican, aren't likely to miss an opportunity to get some video clips of themselves scoring points out there. Knowing they aren't going to give up a chance at their 15 minutes, they need to follow a plan. Chuck Schumer needs to make them do it.

For once, they have to coordinate. They have to find a single plan of attack and stick to it, with their questions coordinated and designed to build a narrative. Already we're seeing the opening—this is a rushed confirmation that Republicans are intent on ramming through before the election and in that rush, they're covering stuff up. We saw the initial evidence of that when Barrett did not submit a newspaper ad she signed on to in 2006 on behalf of a forced-birther group with the materials she provided to the Judiciary Committee—either for this nomination or for her 2017 nomination to an appeals court position. In the ad, she said she opposed "abortion on demand" and defended "the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life." That's not all: In 2017, The Washington Post reports she didn't disclose her affiliation with the radical Christian group People of Praise. The group has scrubbed all references to her from its website. What else is she hiding?

In pushing that narrative, they should also have the less effective of their members step back. Let Sens. Kamala Harris (she has said she intends to participate), Amy Klobuchar, Mazie Hirono, and Sheldon Whitehouse—the sharpest interrogators—take the lead. They were the sharpest and most effective questioners in the Kavanaugh hearings and we need that acuity again now. 

That's not the only Democratic coordination we need to have happen. Schumer should be quietly working with his conference and with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on measures they can take to gum up the works for the Senate after the almost inevitable vote out of committee happens. There are things like War Powers resolutions Democratic senators can bring to the floor that will take precedent over a confirmation vote. Likewise, there are resolutions—most notably impeachment—that the House can send over that have to be considered before nominations. Note that this kind of coordination could be happening already. We're not supposed to see it. To be most effective, it can't be seen coming. McConnell is likely already figuring out how he can combat such measures, so Democrats have to be as wily in figuring out when and how to spring them. Which they should be working on. Right now.

Stopping this is going to be nearly impossible, barring the coronavirus continuing to sweep through Republican ranks and reducing the number of senators McConnell has available at any given time. But that doesn't mean Democrats are powerless, and it doesn't mean they shouldn't find every possible avenue for getting this delayed past the election. It probably won't work, but they've got to try it anyway.

For one thing, it will give them practice on coordinating their messaging and their efforts to reform the courts when they have the White House and Senate in 2021.

Lindsey Graham’s next big round of sucking up to Trump is coming in new Russia probe

Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s chief lapdogs in the Senate, will have sweeping subpoena power to try to belatedly exonerate Trump and incriminate the Obama administration in the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to give Graham, who is the committee chair, that subpoena power while rejecting—also along partisan lines—Democrats’ efforts to get subpoena power as well.

Graham plans to subpoena Obama administration officials including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. All part of the plan to delegitimize the investigation into what Russia did to help Trump win rather than investigating … what Russia did to help Trump win.

“I am very intent in making sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “This” is the investigation into Russian election interference, not the Russian election interference itself.

It’s not just Graham and the Judiciary Committee, either. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson, will also be investigating the Russia investigation, and, as an extra-partisan bonus, he’s investigating Hunter Biden, too. Because nothing says “this investigation is aimed at uncovering the truth about a very important issue, not attacking my political opponents” like waiting until years after the fact during an election year and following the lead of a president who was impeached for abusing power to create a scandal around the same figure you’re now “investigating.”

Trump had Park Police and National Guard troops violently clear a peaceful protest so he could get a photo op. His attorney general has lied about it and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized for being party to it. But Senate Republicans—the same Senate Republicans who protected him during the impeachment trial—couldn’t care less. Neither do they care that a foreign nation attacked U.S. democracy four years ago. They just want to keep the truth from getting out and do whatever it takes to protect Trump from ever facing a consequence for anything. 

There’s a nationwide movement against police brutality and a global pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans, in large part because of Donald Trump’s refusal to admit it might be a problem. And Senate Republicans don’t care about anything but keeping Trump in power.