Published 9:51 PM EDT Sep 29, 2018
WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI on Saturday to investigate a person who gave apparent "false statements" during its vetting of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh was questioned about the claim, which accused him of sexually assaulting a woman in Rhode Island. After the claim was made public, the man who made it recanted his story, the committee says. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, said the reporting of the false statement slowed Kavanaugh's hearings and diverted resources.
"The Committee is grateful to citizens who come forward with relevant information in good faith, even if they are not one hundred percent sure about what they know," he said in a statement. "But when individuals provide fabricated allegations to the Committee, diverting Committee resources during time-sensitive investigations, it materially impedes our work. Such acts are not only unfair; they are potentially illegal"
Grassley said the man could be potentially charged.
"It is illegal to make materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements to Congressional investigators," he said. "It is illegal to obstruct Committee investigations."
While it's unclear whether the man had malicious intent to "obstruct" the investigation, the recanting of an allegation could allow Republicans to cast doubt on other allegations lodged against Kavanaugh.
"It seems like an effort to emphasize that not all reports were accurate," said Renato Mariotti, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. "This is a way to suggest you can't trust all the allegations made to the committee and could cause some people to draw conclusions that more are false."
Mariotti said the effort could also prevent others from providing false accusations during this weeklong delay before the Senate takes up a full vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation to the high court.
The allegation was reported by a Rhode Island man to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI. The man alleged a close "acquaintance" of his had been raped by two "heavily inebriated men she referred to at the time as Brett and Mark," a transcript of Kavanaugh's interview shows.
The man said the incident happened in August 1985 on a 36-foot maroon and white boat in Newport, Rhode Island, after the woman and the two men met at a local bar. The man said when he'd learned about the incident the following morning, he went down to the harbor with another person and got into a physical fight with the pair. He said he realized it was Kavanaugh after seeing his yearbook photo on the news.
Kavanaugh denied the claims and said the story was "just completely made up."
The man's Twitter account was released in Senate documents. After he was identified, the man posted on Twitter that "made a mistake and apologize for such mistake."
Grassley sent a letter to the Justice Department and FBI, referring them to investigate the man for any potential crimes.
"In light of the seriousness of these facts, and the threat these types of actions pose to the Committee’s ability to perform its constitutional duties, I hope you will give this referral the utmost consideration," Grassley wrote.
When asked by USA TODAY whether the FBI would investigate this person, the bureau declined to comment.
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The man's claims are just one of a handful that has been lodged against Kavanaugh over the last few weeks. Grassley notes many of those who came forward did so "in good faith."
Christine Blasey Ford was the first to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault, providing statements even before he was selected as Trump's choice for the Supreme Court.
She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that Kavanaugh held her down and groped her at a party when they were teenagers in high school.
Two other women came forward with claims. Several anonymous allegations were also reported to members of Congress.
Amid the allegations, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move forward with Kavanaugh's nomination on Friday but asked the president to reopen Kavanaugh's FBI background check.
That investigation was reopened and agents have a week to complete their examination of the batch of allegations.