All last week, as they pushed for an FBI investigation into Brett M. Kavanaugh, Democrats cited the agency’s 1991 probe of Clarence Thomas as a model: A tightly focused, speedy inquiry to sort out claims of sexual misconduct against a Supreme Court nominee.
Democrats will get their wish this week, as the FBI carries out a time-and-scope-limited investigation into the claims of at least two of Kavanaugh’s accusers. Maybe they’ll also remember all the deficiencies critics found with the Thomas probe.
A far cry from the investigative blitzkrieg that former FBI director James B. Comey imagines this week’s effort could be, the agency’s 1991 investigation of Anita Hill’s accusations against Thomas was a small and quiet affair, open and shut inside three days, with as few as three witnesses questioned about the nominee’s behavior.
The FBI never talked to — or even knew to look for — four potential witnesses who had knowledge of Hill’s complaints about Thomas, according to two Wall Street Journal reporters who reinvestigated the case and wrote a book about it. Hill later testified that the agents who spoke to her asked few pressing questions, stood her up for a follow-up interview, then misquoted her in their final report. In the end, the FBI report was used by Republicans to discredit her and help secure Thomas’s confirmation.