Senior Trump administration officials insisted Sunday that the White House is not "micromanaging" a new FBI background check of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, claiming the probe is a Senate process and that lawmakers are the only ones dictating its parameters.
President Donald Trump initially opposed such an investigation in the face of sexual misconduct claims against Kavanaugh, but the president and Senate Republican leaders agreed to an inquiry after GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona made clear he would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh without one.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said oversight of the investigation belonged to the Senate.
"The White House counsel has allowed the Senate to dictate what these terms look like and what the scope of the investigation is," she said on "Fox News Sunday." ''The White House isn't intervening. We're not micromanaging this process. It's a Senate process. It has been from the beginning, and we're letting the Senate continue to dictate what the terms look like."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway delivered a similar message Sunday, repeating that the investigation will be "limited in scope" and "will not be a fishing expedition. The FBI is not tasked to do that."
Yet the precise scope of the investigation remained unclear.
Trump told reporters Saturday that "the FBI, as you know, is all over talking to everybody" and said "this could be a blessing in disguise."
"They have free rein. They're going to do whatever they have to do, whatever it is they do. They'll be doing things that we have never even thought of," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to West Virginia. "And hopefully at the conclusion everything will be fine."
The president revisited the question of the scope of the FBI's probe later Saturday on Twitter, writing in part, "I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion."
At least three women have accused Kavanaugh, a federal appellate court, judge of misconduct. He denies all of their claims.
The lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were students at Yale, has agreed to cooperate with the FBI, her lawyer, John Clune, said Saturday. Ramirez has alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in the early 1980s.
A third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and school friend Mark Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations. Kavanaugh has called her accusations a "joke" and Judge has said he "categorically" denies the allegations.
But Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Swetnick, said Saturday that his client had not been contacted by the FBI but is willing to cooperate with investigators.
Judge, who Ford says was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, said he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh. Judge has also denied misconduct allegations.
Lawyers for P.J. Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, two others who Ford said were in the house when she was attacked, have said their clients are willing to cooperate "fully" with the FBI. An attorney for Keyser reaffirmed her previous statement that she doesn't know Kavanaugh and has no recollection of ever being at a gathering or party where he was present, the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement Saturday night.
Calls for an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh mounted after California professor Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied being the perpetrator.
In dueling appearances last Thursday, he and Ford told their stories during sworn testimony before the Judiciary Committee. The panel voted Friday in favor of Kavanaugh, along party lines, and Flake then offered his proposal for the FBI investigation.
Trump then ordered the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh's background investigation, which has delayed a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination. The Judiciary Committee has said the probe should be limited to "current credible allegations" against Kavanaugh and be finished by next Friday.
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. The investigators will compile information about Kavanaugh's past and provide their findings to the White House and include the information in Kavanaugh's background file, which is available to senators.
In a separate action involving the FBI, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department and the FBI to open a criminal investigation into "apparent false statements" made to committee investigators alleging sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in 1985.
A constituent contacted the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted an acquaintance on a boat in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1985. Grassley said the person later "'recanted' and apologized for the allegation via social media.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.