Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) accused the FBI of running a bogus tip line while investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the latest in a sequence of serious but unsubstantiated claims the Rhode Island Democrat has made about Kavanaugh and his confirmation process.
The senator spoke Wednesday by Zoom to an Ohio chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS), a progressive judicial group. Three attendees told the Washington Free Beacon that Whitehouse twice asserted that the FBI operated a "fake" tip line while purporting to investigate the justice.
Mike Davis, formerly a top lawyer to then-Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), denied any such wrongdoing on the part of the FBI. Davis now leads an outside group that supports President Donald Trump's judicial nominees.
"Senator Whitehouse needs to get his head checked," Davis told the Free Beacon. "Like all other senators, Whitehouse had access to the FBI's printed reports with detailed summaries of the tips it received. These FBI reports were provided to the Senate as part of the FBI's supplement (7th) background investigation of Justice Kavanaugh's character and fitness over his 25+ years in public service."
The ACS told the Free Beacon that video of the event will not be available, and the senator's office did not reply to the Free Beacon's requests for comment. The FBI declined to comment.
The accusation is the latest in a series of serious claims or questions Whitehouse has raised about Kavanaugh, sometimes obliquely, without clear evidence.
Whitehouse himself was a conduit for at least one false allegation of misconduct congressional investigators reviewed. The senator's office relayed a tip from a constituent, Jeffrey Catalan, that accused Kavanaugh of assaulting an unnamed woman on a boat in Newport, prompting a physical altercation.
The witness later recanted and admitted the tip was fabricated. Committee Republicans referred him to the Justice Department for prosecution, as lying to congressional investigators is a federal crime. Whitehouse said Catalan was owed an apology.
"They're trying to throw him under the bus, I think as a demonstration that other people who come forward will be treated very roughly," the senator told the Providence Journal. The paper also reported that the senator's office gave a reporter's contact information to Catalan.
Whitehouse has elsewhere raised questions that implicate Kavanaugh in dodgy doings.
In a written supplement to his committee testimony, Whitehouse asked Kavanaugh a sequence of questions that imply the justice has an undisclosed gambling problem. Among other things, the senator asked Kavanaugh whether he had ever sought treatment for gambling addiction, accrued debts in New Jersey casinos, or declared gambling losses to the IRS. He also pressed Kavanaugh for details on a game of dice referenced in a 2001 email with colleagues in the George W. Bush administration.
Kavanaugh denied any such failings, and there is no public evidence that he has a sordid history with gambling.
Certain aspects of Kavanaugh's family finances also drew the senator's scrutiny in the supplemental questions. Whitehouse asked Kavanaugh about the purchase of his home in Maryland, worth about $1.2 million, as well as the family's membership in the Chevy Chase Club, a private enclave favored by the Washington elite whose initiation fee is said to approach $100,000. The senator did not give reasons for his interest in these particulars.
The Kavanaughs are both career public employees, and the justice had previously listed credit card debts on financial disclosure forms. Kavanaugh has supplemented his income considerably, however, by teaching law school courses on an annual basis, and he collected a six-figure backpay award for delayed cost of living adjustments to his salary in 2014. The justice's father, Everett Edward Kavanaugh, was the longtime president of a Washington trade association.
During Kavanaugh's second appearance before the Judiciary Committee, the pair had a spirited colloquy about the justice's high school yearbook caption, which is replete with risqué jokes and other indiscretions. Speaking ahead of a committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, Whitehouse said he did not believe the justice's explanations for certain entries. For example, Whitehouse intimated that a reference to "the devil's triangle" alluded to a lewd sex act and not a drinking game as Kavanaugh maintained.