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What Is The Difference Between An FBI Investigation And What Senate Investigators Do?


The latest twist in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation saga - there will be an FBI investigation. This comes after a few Republicans and Democrats struck a dramatic agreement that delays a final vote on the Supreme Court nominee for one week. Then came an official order by President Trump for a supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh that is, quote, "limited in scope."

NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here to explain what exactly that means. Hi, Ryan.


KELLY: So let's go one at a time. What is a supplemental background investigation in this case?

LUCAS: Well, the White House is basically asking the FBI to reopen its previous background investigation of Kavanaugh. Background checks are very routine. Supreme Court nominees go through them. Government officials do. They're based off of a form called an SF 86. Those are very detailed. The applicant provides references to talk to, neighbors and so on. The purpose of this is to get clarity on a nominee's character - references, associates - see if there's any derogatory information out there about them. They also check employment history, finances. They want to see, for example, if they're loyal to the United States as well.

KELLY: And as you said, this is a background investigation that would be reopened. They obviously did one earlier in the process. So this would be going back and digging a little bit deeper.

LUCAS: It would. It would. They will look into, you know, what these credible allegations are, which is what the Republicans would like to see. It's not entirely clear what that means at this point.

KELLY: Right. Does it mean some allegations would be off-limits and not looked at?

LUCAS: It's not clear. Right now he's saying limited in scope. And of course Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas perhaps on what - which allegations are credible and which ones aren't. There's Christine Blasey Ford's allegations, but there are two other women who have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

KELLY: Two others who've come forward by name, yeah...

LUCAS: By name, exactly.

KELLY: ...Or publicly. Right.

LUCAS: And as a senior FBI official - former senior FBI official told me this afternoon, the FBI in these investigations works like a contractor for the White House. So it's the president who gets to decide what the parameters of this investigation are going to be. And it's the president who makes the decision on what the FBI's going to investigate.

KELLY: And from the FBI's perspective, how does it work? Is this something they can reasonably do in a week?

LUCAS: It is. I spoke to a couple of former FBI guys today who said that they can definitely get this done within a week. It's largely going to be interviews, maybe some checking of records. In Ford's case, they'll likely talk to both her and Kavanaugh. Both of them have said that they will cooperate. The FBI could also talk to others who might have knowledge of the events in question. Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge would be top of that list. His name came up a lot during the hearing. This is not a criminal investigation, though. There are no subpoenas here. This is a voluntary thing for witnesses. So if a witness decides that they don't want to talk to the FBI in this, they can say no.

KELLY: Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: My pleasure.

KELLY: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.