The ongoing controversy surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has sparked more than a few comparisons to the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
At that time, President George H.W. Bush called for an FBI investigation into Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment, a move many Democrats and some Republicans believe to be an appropriate response in light of multiple claims of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.
As clips from the Thomas hearings resurface in the context of modern-day politics, an argument made by then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is attracting attention for its dismissal of a federal probe into such matters.
“The reason why I have worked so hard to keep FBI reports totally secret is because they have little or no probative weight, because they are hearsay,” he said.
That argument is now being echoed on the other side of the aisle by those senators who say an FBI investigation is unnecessary.
Arguing against the release of the probe into Hill’s allegations in 1991, Biden described the bureau’s methods as incompatible with the Senate’s confirmation process.
“The FBI does their interviews by walking up to Person A and saying will you speak to us, and the guarantee is anonymity,” he said. “That is what the FBI tells the person, and the FBI speaks to the person. Now, for us to summarily go back and say, as a matter of policy, that we are going to break the commitment the Federal Government makes to an individual, in order to get that individual to cooperate in an investigation, is disastrous.”
Biden went on to diminish the findings of such federal investigations, telling his fellow senators that an FBI report is effectively worthless.
“And the last thing I will point out, the next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything, obviously doesn’t understand anything,” he said. “FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case reach a conclusion, period, period.”
Biden told Thomas that he “would not like it” if senators relied on the report to make a judgment on his qualifications.
“They say he said, she said, and they said, period,” Biden said. “So when people wave an FBI report before you, understand they do not, they do not reach conclusions.”
Instead of that report, he pointed to the importance of hearing from witnesses on both sides of the case.
“Now we’re going to hear more witnesses, they’re going to come in and corroborate your position and hers,” Biden told Thomas.
He compared the job of senators to the judge’s duty to impose rulings from the bench.
“We’ll find out whether they’re telling the truth or not as best as we are capable of doing — just like you as a judge are when you look them in the eye and make a judgment,” Biden said.
Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford initially requested an FBI investigation prior to providing her testimony on Capitol Hill. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate judiciary committee, dismissed that notion in his response.
“Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events,” he wrote. “Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for further delay.”
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