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Nominations & Appointments

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  • Conservative media run with flawed FBI investigation and GOP's spin to vindicate Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & TIMOTHY JOHNSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media are hyping claims from the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that the results of an FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh do not corroborate multiple women’s accounts that he sexually assaulted them while at the same time attacking anyone who pointed out flaws in the investigation. The FBI investigation was extremely limited in scope and time; did not include interviews of Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, or approximately 40 others who say they tried to talk to the FBI but couldn’t get through; and did not look into the likelihood that Kavanaugh lied in his Senate testimony. Ford, whose report that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school is central to determining Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court, offered to speak with the FBI, but was rebuffed.

    Trump and Senate Republicans purposely limited the scope of the FBI investigation

    The FBI was initially authorized by the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to interview just four people. From The New York Times:

    Mr. Trump ordered the one-week F.B.I. investigation on Friday after Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a key swing vote, insisted the allegations be examined before he committed to voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But the White House and Senate Republicans gave the F.B.I. a list of only four people to question: Ms. Ramirez and Mark Judge, P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, three people Dr. Blasey identified as being at the house where she said Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Trump later reportedly authorized the FBI to interview more witnesses, but still kept it limited by an arbitrary deadline. From The New York Times:

    The White House authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

    At an event on Monday celebrating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, President Trump said he instructed his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, over the weekend to instruct the F.B.I. to carry out an open investigation, but the president included the caveat that the inquiry should accommodate the desires of Senate Republicans.

    The new directive came after a backlash from Democrats, who criticized the White House for limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The F.B.I. has already interviewed the four witnesses it was originally asked to question, and on Monday it reached out to others. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    In the end, only 10 witnesses were reportedly interviewed. [Twitter, 10/4/18]

    The investigation finished within only a few days. CNN reported that the White House sent the information gleaned from the investigation to the Senate on the morning of October 4, just days after the investigation was set into motion on September 28. [CNN, 10/4/18]

    The FBI reportedly did not investigate whether Kavanaugh lied to the Senate. New York magazine’s The Cut noted that, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the FBI did not investigate whether Kavanaugh perjured himself by lying about his high school and college behavior:

    What’s not being investigated is Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and college, which his classmates say was defined by partying and drinking to excess, at which point the SCOTUS nominee would allegedly become “aggressive” —accounts that drastically differ from those Kavanaugh offered while under oath. Some senators, including Bernie Sanders, have raised concern over the FBI’s apparent disregard for the likelihood that Kavanaugh may have perjured himself.

    “The FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh must include a review of his numerous untruthful statements in his previous testimony before Congress,” Sanders tweeted. “Lying to Congress is a federal crime.” He then outlined the numerous examples in which Kavanaugh appears to have lied under oath. [The Cut, 10/3/18]

    Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were interviewed by the FBI. Kavanaugh repeatedly lied under oath about his behavior in high school and college, but he didn’t have to defend his statements during an FBI interview. Ford sought to speak with the FBI, but was turned down. From Vox:

    Notably, Ford and Kavanaugh are both not yet on the list of people that the FBI has interviewed. A spokesperson for Ford’s attorneys said she had still not been contacted by the FBI as of early Wednesday afternoon.

    “We have received no response from anyone involved in this investigation, and no response to our offer for Dr. Ford to be interviewed,” Ford’s attorneys emphasized in a Tuesday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This afternoon, we learned of media reports that the FBI does not intend to interview either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. We hope that this reporting is inaccurate.”

    There could be a crucial reason for their omission from the investigation. Sources have told Bloomberg that the FBI has not done interviews with Ford or Kavanaugh because the White House hasn’t granted it the authority to conduct them. [Vox, 10/3/18]

    NBC News: “More than 40 people with potential information into the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh have not been contacted by the FBI.” [NBC News, 10/4/18]

    Legal and criminal experts explain that conditions Trump placed upon the FBI investigation make it a sham

    Chris Kang, former Obama administration deputy counsel: “President Trump and Senate Republicans are turning this much-needed FBI investigation into a sham. … The entire investigation must be made public, so the American people can know which witnesses were interviewed and whether the FBI was able to follow a full range of questioning, including regarding Kavanaugh's candor and credibility.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Mike Zubrensky, former deputy assistant attorney general at DOJ Office of Legal Counsel: “The investigation of Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct is far too serious for a rigged process. … Senator Flake and his Senate colleagues must insist that McConnell respect the confirmation process. And they should demand that the FBI take the time it needs to conduct a thorough and meaningful investigation.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence: “Existing background investigation protocols between the White House and the FBI regarding presidential appointees are flawed and need to be reexamined. ... When the White House can prevent the nation’s premier investigative agency from fully determining the suitability of a Supreme Court nominee we have a problem.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Kristine Lucius, former top legal and policy advisor to Sen. Patrick Leahy: “During my over 14 years on the committee, I can’t remember any supplemental investigation in which the FBI did not interview the person who brought forth the allegations, and the nominee himself. … That has been – and must remain – a minimum base line for credibility. No senator should even consider agreeing to proceed with this nomination unless and until the FBI investigation is determined to be thorough and unfettered.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Former FBI officials said past background checks were not limited by politics. From The New York Times:

    Several former F.B.I. officials said that they could think of no previous instance when the White House restricted the bureau’s ability to interview potential witnesses during a background check. Chuck Rosenberg, a former F.B.I. chief of staff, said background investigations were frequently reopened, but the bureau decided how to pursue new allegations.

    “The White House normally tells the F.B.I. what issue to examine, but would not tell the F.B.I. how to examine it, or with whom they should speak,” he said. “It’s highly unusual — in fact, as far I know, uniquely so — for the F.B.I. to be directed to speak only to a limited number of designated people.” [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Leah Litman, UC Irvine assistant law professor: Restricted FBI investigation makes it “a joke.” From The New Yorker:

    Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, said the severe restrictions on the scope of the investigation made it “a joke.” She asked, “What kind of an investigation into an assault that happened under the influence of alcohol doesn’t include investigating the accused’s use of alcohol?” She said, “Usually, the F.B.I. investigators aren’t told who to call and who not to.” She said that Rasor should be interviewed, given her past relationship with Judge. “If Mark Judge is on the ‘approved’ list of witnesses, and they are interviewing him, there is no reason not to interview Rasor, who has testimony that is very relevant to his credibility, and the testimony that he would offer,” she said. [The New Yorker, 9/30/18]

    John Mindermann, former FBI special agent: The restrictions on the probe means it’s not a “real, authentic FBI investigation.” From an October 4 MSNBC interview:

    JOHN MINDERMANN (FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT): What will be laid out within the limits of the scope and the time that the FBI had to do the investigation will be a portrait of the individual who is being investigated. That's in any background check. The key to a background check is comprehensive running out of all available leads. Apparently in this case, those leads, which were available, were not run out by the FBI because of the limits of time and scope. That is very, very problematic because that limits the overall portrait. It's like taking the brush out of the hand of the painter midway through the portrait session. What will be in there will be, corroborating or not, statements, data, information, times, dates, et cetera, that may or may not corroborate specific allegations that were brought forward.

    HALLIE JACKSON (HOST): We know that the FBI has spoken with nine people that have been interviewed. And we know the names of six of them. We don't know who the other three people are. We know that they originally contacted 10 people. It's not clear to us just yet, based on our sources, why that 10th person was not actually interviewed. You can see who we know and who we don't know there. Dr. Ford's attorney says because she's not on this list -- right, you don't see Christine Blasey Ford on that screen right there -- so her lawyer says this can't be called an investigation. The FBI was not actually seeking the truth. So John, do you agree? Is this a comprehensive investigation or not?

    MINDERMANN: I actually agree that really this does not fall under the definition of a real, authentic FBI investigation. It really is an investigation which is just limited in terms of targeting specific individuals, and for reasons unknown, eliminating a vast majority of people who could have provided corroborating evidence, corroborating information, positive, negative, neutral, whatever. But in an FBI investigation -- and I've done these and I've supervised these -- in these investigations, you encourage your agents to go out, cover all bases, run out all leads, develop that comprehensive look so that whoever is looking at this is well versed and can make that judgment call. This is a judgment call. There's a lot of subjectivity if you don't have factual information. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, 10/4/18]

    Conservative media figures carry water for the sham investigation -- and treat its spin by GOP officials -- as vindication for Kavanaugh

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity:

    Conservative pundit Erick Erickson:

    Erickson:

    Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk:

    Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume:

    Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro: The FBI didn't need to talk to Ford because "there is nothing else to ask her. There is nothing else that they need to do”:

    Fox & Friends applauded the investigation by claiming "the very narrow scope" avoided "tangents":

    CRTV’s Allie Stuckey:

  • Pro-Kavanaugh shills claim nominee is the victim of a "lynching." Have they ever seen a lynching?

    Lynchings were a cornerstone of a hundred-year campaign of racial terrorism in defense of white supremacy, but conservatives see parallels with a powerful, wealthy white man facing consequences

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Warning: This piece contains graphic images and descriptions. 

    An emerging right-wing media narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “lynching” betrays not only conservative media’s desperation to salvage the nomination after he was credibly accused of sexual assault and likely perjured himself, but also their selfishness and superficiality when it comes to race relations in America. 

    On September 27, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Right-wing media had already been building up a campaign against Ford since news of her allegations broke earlier in the month. But after her testimony, they dialed up their campaign to discredit Ford, with some of them eventually landing on the idea that the opposition to Kavanaugh is nothing but a “lynching.” 

    Attacking a sexual assault survivor with a reductive take on racial terrorism is, unfortunately, very on-brand for American conservatism in 2018. Fox’s Sean Hannity led the charge out of the gate; on September 17, the day after Ford went public, Hannity compared her allegations to the “vicious and horrible and nasty and unjust” hearings about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment reports against Justice Clarence Thomas and aired a clip of Thomas’ infamous “high-tech lynching” line. The Thomas quote was favorably recalled by several right-wing media figures, but they didn’t stop there: Several conservative and right-wing media figures took it upon themselves to make the comparison directly.

    On September 22, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro accused a guest of “setting this man up for his own lynching.” Similarly, the Family Research Council’s William Boykin told Newsbusters that he “thought lynching was made illegal and that the burden of proof rested upon the accuser, not the accused.” And Townhall published a piece (from a Black author) that audaciously began, “History is an easy and convenient thing to forget,” before comparing Kavanaugh to Emmett Till, a Black 14 year-old lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s false groping allegation


    Mamie and Louis Till overlooking their son Emmett's corpse. (Time magazine)

    Perhaps the most depraved take came from National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who seems to compare Kavanaugh to the falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, who is threatened with lynching. Lowry claims that a book famous for its themes of racial injustice “stands firmly for the proposition that an accusation can be false.” Lowry’s column completely ignores race -- the word doesn’t make a single appearance -- so it’s easy for him to twist Mockingbird into pablum about a man’s false accuser being “destroy[ed]” by an attorney who “doesn’t care about her feelings, only the facts.” In the original story, that same attorney also faces down a racist lynch mob outside the jail, but Lowry’s revisionist history inverts a hundred years of racial terror into a narrative that somehow vindicates Kavanaugh at the expense of his alleged victims. This take has spread throughout the right-wing Facebook echo chamber via a popular meme.

    In case conservative media have forgotten, lynchings are a uniquely reprehensible (and ongoing) part of American history. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched -- 72.7 percent of them Black -- for the express purpose of enforcing white supremacy. The victims were murdered in unspeakably horrific ways. Emmett Till, whom the Townhall piece compared to Kavanaugh, was found in a river, weighted down with a piece of a cotton gin. His face was so mangled by his attackers that he was unrecognizable. A sign marking where Till was murdered is regularly shot up by anonymous vandals. There’s also Mary Turner, a pregnant woman whose unborn child was cut from her womb and stomped to death (Turner was also set on fire and shot hundreds of times); Jesse Washington, who was doused in coal oil and hanged to death over burning crates, then carved into souvenirs and paraded around town; and Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who were dragged out of jail, beaten, hanged, then turned into postcards. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is facing extreme public scrutiny as he interviews for a job at the highest court in land. And if he doesn't get it, he'll simply go back to his old cushy life as a federal judge. 


    A postcard made from an image of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie's lynching, also known as the Duluth lynching. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Right-wing media’s increasingly racialized Kavanaugh coverage is especially rich considering their routine denunciations of “the race card.” When conservative media say Kavanaugh is being lynched, they are playing "the race card" with blinders on; their arguments invoking an era of racial terrorism are completely devoid of any meaningful racial analysis. They’re defending a credibly accused sexual predator by first inventing, then weaponizing, an alternative history in which one of the most infamous acts of racial violence isn’t racial at all -- it’s simply about attacking people.

    It’s no coincidence that right-wing media deployed a racially charged accusation of “lynching” at the same time the conservative movement has embraced Dinesh D’Souza’s laughable, brazenly dishonest version of American history in which the Democrats are “the real racists” and the well-documented party realignment around civil rights simply “did not take place.” The right’s attempts to put an accused sexual abuser on the Supreme Court -- after electing another one to the presidency -- only serve to highlight the profound moral and intellectual rot at the heart of American conservatism.