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Former FBI Agent Discusses Practices For Background Probes Into Federal Judges


The FBI is three days into its week-long investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. To understand what a supplemental probe of this type might entail, we reached out to Jack Owens. He's a former FBI agent. He's conducted plenty of background probes into federal judges. And he walked me through how he would go about this one if he were on the team investigating Kavanaugh.

JACK OWENS: First, I would spend a lot of time trying to locate the home. Perhaps Dr. Ford could ride around with agents. We don't have much time here. We have to do it quickly. If we can limit the neighborhood or the general area, we might be able to find the house. There are also real estate records available that the FBI would investigate.

CHANG: Let me just start with the first example. You would actually have Christine Blasey Ford in a car with you and just drive around the neighborhood and see if that jogs her memory to point out the house?

OWENS: I absolutely would, Ailsa.

CHANG: And you would try to look for - you said floor plans of houses in the neighborhood...


CHANG: ...To match her - the description from her memory?

OWENS: I would. And her memory is there's an living room right inside the front door, stairway up to a bedroom on one side and a bathroom across the hallway. We're looking for that.

CHANG: What else would you do? Judge Kavanaugh offered some written calendars from his high school years. What would you do with those calendars?

OWENS: I would interview everyone on that calendar. And the crucial time period is summer, middle of the summer or so, July 1982.

CHANG: And what else? What else do you think is manageable to do within one week?

OWENS: Well, to do it quickly, you could do a polygraph of all three people involved in the alleged sexual assault - Judge Kavanaugh, Mark Judge and Dr. Ford. You could polygraph all three of them.

CHANG: OK. There are allegations that involve Kavanaugh's behavior while under the influence of alcohol during his younger years. Is it relevant? Would it be relevant to you if you were on this investigation to do a thorough probe of his drinking habits in high school and in college?

OWENS: Yes, Ailsa, in this instance - not in all - I would want to interview him extensively about his drinking habits, high school, college and law school. I would want that on the interview.

CHANG: Do you think the FBI in one week can turn up information that has not already been turned up by Senate staffers who have...


CHANG: ...Conducted a background investigation on Kavanaugh? What - tell me why.

OWENS: I do. I do because of the training the FBI gets. We - while the staffers are good people, and they work hard at backgrounds, the FBI does this as its mandate. We do it all over the country frequently. And the agents assigned as case agents on backgrounds are well-trained. They've done it many times.

CHANG: If it turns out the FBI finds information that raises questions about the fitness of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court, does the FBI have a responsibility to pursue those additional leads?

OWENS: Yes. I would pursue them if I were the case agent. I definitely would. Of course, with this week's deadline and a limited scope according to President Trump, I don't know whether we would be permitted to go forth with those additional interviews.

CHANG: Do you think the FBI has a responsibility to ask for additional time if additional information comes up about issues that weren't at the forefront at the beginning?

OWENS: I think the FBI could request additional time if it found new evidence, new information about why the background is being conducted. I think the FBI could request it. However, President Trump must approve the request.

CHANG: Jack Owens is a former FBI agent. Thank you very much.

OWENS: You're welcome, Ailsa. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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