STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just days ago, President Trump said testimony against his Supreme Court nominee was credible. In a political speech last night in Mississippi, the president shifted to mocking Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault but didn't recall every detail.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know.
INSKEEP: The president's mockery came at the same time that the FBI was trying to corroborate those charges, if possible. The agency has been given no more than a week to look into the allegation about the 1980s. How is that possible to do? NPR's Martin Kaste reports on what this FBI background check is and is not.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: If you're following the breathless coverage on cable news, you get the impression this investigation is pretty serious.
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WOLF BLITZER: Happening now - breaking news - comprehensive probe.
KASTE: But listen carefully to how it's being described.
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BLITZER: President Trump calls for a thorough but swift investigation into sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
KASTE: Did you catch that? This is an investigation into sexual assault allegations. What it's not is a criminal sexual assault investigation, and that's pretty apparent to the people who usually do those - the local police.
STEPHEN COOPER: We're following it a little bit, some more than others.
KASTE: That's Stephen Cooper, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division for the police department in Midlothian, Texas, outside Dallas. He's done a lot of sex crime investigations, but he's glad that he's not doing the Kavanaugh case.
COOPER: We wouldn't want to have any part of that, given the nature of how public that investigation is because anybody with any social media or who's watched it on TV has turned this on, so any potential witness or victim is, let's say, tainted.
KASTE: If Cooper did have this case, he'd probably approach it differently from what the FBI is doing. That's because in recent years, police have been moving toward a model called trauma-informed interviewing. Rebecca Campbell is a research psychologist at Michigan State who's helped to promote the new standard, which takes into account that it's normal for victims to sometimes get their facts wrong.
REBECCA CAMPBELL: What trauma-informed interviewing is saying - just because they might have difficulty answering a question or they might have some inconsistencies, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're lying; it doesn't necessarily mean that there's a problem in the case. It means keep an open mind and continue the investigation.
KASTE: That kind of slow, nonconfrontational style is not what FBI background checks are usually like. Background checks focus on the inconsistencies as agents ferret out signs that someone is lying or compromised or hiding something. The FBI is just gathering information for a prospective employer, and the standard of proof is lower. Still, Tom Tremblay says you could do an actual criminal investigation in a case such as Kavanaugh's, assuming the state's statute of limitations allowed it.
TOM TREMBLAY: There are clearly hurdles to delayed reporting, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't investigate thoroughly.
KASTE: Tremblay is the retired police chief of Burlington, Vt., where he both worked and oversaw sex crime cases. And now he helps to train sex crime investigators. While it's hard to build a criminal case when the alleged attack happened decades ago and there's no DNA evidence, he says you should still try.
TREMBLAY: Looking at the circumstances, hearing from any outcry witnesses that the victim may have told through the years, looking for other victims of this offender becomes a big piece of this investigation.
KASTE: But that kind of approach, especially when you start looking for similar attacks by the same person, takes time - weeks and sometimes months when the police do it. And that kind of time is not a luxury that the Senate has allowed the FBI.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF AETHER'S "AT WHAT POINT DO I STOP TRYING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.