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White House denies 'micromanaging' inquiry into high court pick
[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump hit back Sunday at suggestions his administration is trying to "micromanage" the FBI investigation of controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accusing opposition Democrats of being interested only in obstruction.
Mr Trump on Friday had ordered the new FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against Mr Kavanaugh, as the Senate delayed a final vote on his confirmation as the key ninth member of the Supreme Court.
"Wow! Just starting to hear the Democrats, who are only thinking Obstruct and Delay, are starting to put out the word that the 'time' and 'scope' of FBI looking into Judge Kavanaugh and witnesses is not enough," the president tweeted.
"Hello! For them, it will never be enough."
At a dramatic televised hearing Thursday, university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused the judge of pinning her down and assaulting her in the 1980s. Mr Kavanaugh vigorously denied the allegations.
Trump administration officials appearing on television Sunday said the terms of the Kavanaugh inquiry were set by the US Senate, not by the president, but confusion was rife as to the scope of the new investigation.
Both the New York Times and NBC News on Saturday cited multiple sources as saying the White House was limiting the witnesses the FBI could question during a one-week background check.
But Mr Trump subsequently insisted on Twitter that the FBI had "free rein" to pursue the matter as it saw fit.
"I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion," the president tweeted late Saturday.
The Times said the FBI would question four witnesses, according to two people familiar with the matter. The list, reportedly drafted by Senate Republicans, did not include former classmates who had contradicted Mr Kavanaugh's testimony about the extent of his youthful drinking and partying.
In a tweet Sunday, Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg quoted Ms Ford's lawyer, Debra Katz, as saying: "We have not heard from the FBI, despite repeated efforts to speak with them." NBC said the FBI was not being allowed to investigate claims by Julie Swetnick, who has accused Mr Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct at drink-fuelled parties in his student days.
In a separate report Sunday, NBC quoted a senior US official and a second source as saying the limits imposed by the White House on the inquiry remained in place, despite Mr Trump's tweet.
The bureau has, however, contacted Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University classmate of Mr Kavanaugh's who has said he was sexually aggressive toward her at a party, the Washington Post reported.
A Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Amy Klobuchar, told CNN that she was "very concerned" by the reported White House constraints on the inquiry.
"The White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation," she said.
"We have to allow them to go ahead." Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders insisted that the White House was staying "out of the way", but also said the inquiry should not be allowed to become a "total fishing expedition" by the FBI.
Asked on Fox News Sunday whether the White House had given the FBI a list of permitted witnesses, she replied, "Not that I'm aware of."
"The White House isn't intervening, we are not micromanaging this process," she said.
Ms Ford's wrenching testimony Thursday engendered expressions of deep sympathy from many viewers, and scores of women shared accounts on social media of having been victims of sexual aggression.
'I'M A VICTIM'
The recent events also drew a stunning revelation Sunday from one of Mr Trump's own senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway.
While discussing the case on CNN, she said "I feel very empathetic, frankly, towards victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and rape." Continuing after a brief, sombre pause, she said, "I'm a victim of sexual assault." But she then added that it was unfair to condemn Mr Kavanaugh for an alleged action 36 years ago that could not be confirmed.
While the White House has denied setting limits on the FBI inquiry, Norman Eisen, who was special counsel for ethics under President Barack Obama, tweeted that it would be highly unusual if it were to do so.
"I dealt with hundreds of these as WH Ethics Czar & it is malpractice for WH to rule out Swetnick, Yale boozing" and more, he tweeted.
"I call cover-up."