On September 27, 2018 at the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, during his opening remarks, Senator Grassley claimed that FBI investigations can add nothing to Senate confirmation hearings and that this was asserted some time ago by Senator Joe Biden:

As you can see, the Judiciary Committee was able to conduct thorough investigations into allegation — thorough investigations into allegations.

Some of my colleagues, consistent with their stated desires to obstruct Kavanaugh’s nomination by any means precisely — by any means necessary, pushed for FBI investigations into the allegations. But I have no authority to force the executive branch agency to conduct an investigation into a matter it considers to be closed. Moreover, once the allegations become — became public, it was easy to identify all the alleged witnesses and conduct our own investigations.

Contrary to what the public has been led to believe, the FBI doesn’t perform any credibility assessments or verify the truth of any events in these background investigations.

I’ll quote then-Chairman Joe Biden during Justice Thomas’ confirmation hearing. This is what Senator Biden said, quote, “The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything obviously doesn’t understand anything. The FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case, reach a conclusion, period. They say he — he said, she said, they said, period. So when people wave an FBI report before you, understand, they do not — they do not — they do not reach conclusions. They do not make recommendations,” end of Senator Biden’s quote.

The FBI provided us with the allegations. Now it’s up to the Senate to assess their credibility. Which brings us to this very time.

"Kavanaugh hearing: Transcript", The Washington Post (2018-09-27)

Is this really a direct quote by Democratic Senator and former Vice President Joe Biden? When did he say this?

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    Also notable is that Biden is saying we can't rely on FBI reports for their conclusions, which is very different than asking that the FBI do the background and interview people and report on what facts they can find and what people are willing to say with potential criminal sanctions for lying. But people do love misquoting Biden when it comes to SCOTUS confirmations. Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 15:44
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    The problem with this Grassley quote is not whether Biden said that, but whether "the FBI provided us with the allegations". He's implying the request for an FBI investigation is a request for a credibility assessment or conclusion, and that they have already completed interviews re: the allegations. They haven't.
    – De Novo
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 15:45

2 Answers 2


He essentially did, but it doesn't mean what his critics think it means.

Immediately before Biden's remarks, Justice Thomas is arguing with Senator Simon that he's had five FBI background checks as proof that if he had done anything wrong, wouldn't they have caught it? And that the Senate Judiciary committee is not a judicial body, and thus can't make judgments like this.

Biden is stating that the FBI is not a decision-making body. It is a tool, like a hammer. When told what to do, it can build a case, it can tear down barriers, it can knock aside impediments. But it only goes where it's told, and at the end of the day, it offers up evidence for a lawyer to prosecute, and a judge to decide on. Even in hearings like the Anita Hill hearing, they would only have done a background check where they were asked to do one, and report back the facts and evidence for the Judiciary Committee to make a ruling.

So bottom line, Biden seems to be stressing that Thomas is not exonerated because the FBI didn't find anything, because they hadn't been asked to look into this specific case, and because they do not make conclusions based on those facts. That is not to say that their evidence doesn't make others' job much easier, and sheds light where it needs to be shed.

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    In the transcript, the previous mention of an FBI report is Senator Spector saying "I had asked you at the time about these charges, having seen the FBI report", so it seems more reasonable that Biden was referring back to this.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 21:21
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    Biden also accused Senator Hatch of violating rules by reading the FBI report: "violate the committee rules and read from the FBI report". So there was an FBI report that had accusations against Thomas.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 21:34
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    After reading this answer, this question really needs its title edited. Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 22:34
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    This answer would be improved by providing links to the sources to which it is referring.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 8:00
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    Welcome to SE.Skeptics! It looks like this answer's gotten a lot of up-votes so far, though SE.Skeptics does require sources to back up claims. If there's no need to cite sources for anything as it's all generally accepted common knowledge, then the question itself might belong on a different site (likely SE.Politics).
    – Nat
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 11:52

It is not a single direct quote. Some parts have been edited out.

According The Supreme Court of the United States: Hearings and Reports on Successful and Unsuccessful Nominations of Supreme Court Justices by the Senate Judiciary Committee (1995) the full, unedited, quote is:

And the last thing I will point out, the next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything, obviously doesn't understand anything. FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case, reach a conclusion, period, period. So, Judge, there is no reason why you should know this. The reason why we cannot rely on the FBI report, you would not like it if we did because it is inconclusive. They say "he said, she said, and they said", period. So when people wave an FBI report before you, understand they do not, they do not reach conclusions. They do not make, as my friend points out more accurately, they do not make recommendations.

Date was 12 October 1991.

Alternative sources:

Nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1994)

The Complete Transcripts of the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill Hearings (2005)

In the same vein, earlier in the day Biden, who was the committee chairman, said:

The reason why I have worked so hard to keep FBI reports totally secret is because they have little or no probative weight

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