The FBI will not interview Julie Swetnick, the third woman to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, according to multiple reports and Republican senator Lindsey Graham, highlighting the narrow scope of the agency’s supplemental investigation into Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee.
After NBC News and the other outlets said Swetnick would not be questioned, the White House, which has stood by Kavanaugh through the fallout from an explosive Senate hearing on Thursday, denied it was limiting the investigation.
On Saturday Donald Trump said on Twitter he wanted the FBI “to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion”.
On Sunday Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump counselor, told CNN’s State of the Union: “We trust the hardworking men and women of the FBI to do their jobs, and they will determine what will be included within that scope.”
Conway also revealed that she had been a victim of sexual assault.
“I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and rape … I’m a victim of sexual assault,” she said.
Swetnick and two other women, Dr Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years in the early 1980s.
A report in the New York Times indicated that only one of the accusers, Ramirez, would initially be interviewed by the FBI, after the White House approved a list of just four witnesses. The investigation was described as a limited background check, not a criminal probe. It was opened after an intervention from Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake and is set to last no longer than a week.
Ramirez claims Kavanaugh exposed his genitals to her during a drunken dorm-room party in their freshman year at Yale University.
Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, accuses Kavanaugh of attempted rape. During testimony before the Senate judiciary committee which gripped the nation on Thursday, she said she was 100% certain it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her and described in vivid detail the night of the alleged attack at a house party outside Washington.
The other three witnesses to be questioned by the FBI, the Times reported, are Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge and Leland Keyser and PJ Smyth, also said to have been at the party at which Ford says Kavanaugh assaulted her.
Kavanaugh, 53, who has denied all the allegations against him, was not on the reported list of approved interviews.
Swetnick has claimed, in a sworn statement, that Kavanaugh and Judge engaged in lewd behavior with young women at high school parties, and alleged the two placed drugs or alcohol in punch in order to inebriate women so they could be “gang raped” by other partygoers.
Judge has denied Swetnick’s allegations. Ford says he was present during her alleged assault; he has said he has no memory of the alleged attack.
On Sunday, Swetnick’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, wrote on Twitter that he was “still waiting for the FBI to contact me or my client”. Avenatti also represents Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor who says she had a sexual affair with Trump, a claim the president denies.
Avenatti added: “How do you conduct a legitimate, fair [and] thorough investigation into allegations unless you interview the person actually making the allegations about her experiences, what she witnessed, and what facts and other witnesses she is aware of? Answer – YOU CAN’T. And that’s by design.”
Democrats urged the FBI to investigate Swetnick’s claims and voiced concern that the White House may be narrowing the scope of the agency’s work.
“I’m very concerned about this because the White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation,” Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who sits on the judiciary committee, told CNN.
She added: “I think she [Swetnick] has to be interviewed by the FBI. I haven’t met her. I believe in due process, she did sign an affidavit.”
Conway and press secretary Sarah Sanders, who appeared on Fox News Sunday, both insisted the White House was not micro-managing. But Graham appeared to confirm Swetnick would not be questioned.
“I think the allegation that she makes is outrageous and not one Democrat mentioned it,” the South Carolina senator and judiciary committee member told ABC’s This Week. “But Mark Judge, who is named by Ms Swetnick as being part of a gang rape and drugging women, will be asked did he ever see it happen. Or did he see Kavanaugh engage in it?”
Republican leaders are keen to push Kavanaugh’s nomination through before the midterm elections in November. But a handful of swing voters, including Flake, Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Democrats up for re-election in red-leaning states, have yet to declare their positions.
No date has been set for a full floor vote.