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RHODE MAP

Senator Whitehouse draws fire in questioning FBI’s Kavanaugh probe, dark money

“This kind of paranoid obsession is Nixonian poison to public trust,” Sen. Ben Sasse said

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks as FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks as FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 2, 2021.Graeme Jennings/Associated Press

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LEADING OFF

Happy Thursday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Edward Fitzpatrick and I’ve got to admit that my favorite politician is Mayor McCheese. Follow me on Twitter @FitzProv or send tips to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 132,184 confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, after adding 384 new cases. The most-recent overall daily test-positive rate was 2 percent. The state announced five more deaths, bringing the total to 2,588. There were 139 people in the hospital, while 278,866 residents had received the first dose of the vaccine and 126,358 were fully vaccinated.

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US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has rankled the right before. But now, the Rhode Island Democrat might have reached record rankle.

Whitehouse this week released a letter in which he asks Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate “what appears to have been a politically constrained and perhaps fake FBI investigation into alleged misconduct by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.”

Whitehouse, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, recounted how Christine Blasey Ford testified before the committee in 2018 about an alleged sexual assault that occurred when she and Kavanaugh were in high school. Kavanaugh denied the allegations, and then-President Donald J. Trump authorized an FBI investigation.

But Whitehouse said the FBI had no one assigned to accept or gather new evidence. And while the agency eventually opened a tip line, he said, “This ‘tip line’ appears to have operated more like a garbage chute, with everything that came down the chute consigned without review to the figurative dumpster.”

Whitehouse’s letter drew immediate Republican ire.

”If senators want to join conspiracy theory book clubs, wear tinfoil hates, and talk about Roswell, that’s their prerogative, but this is more sinister,” Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told the National Review. “This kind of paranoid obsession is Nixonian poison to public trust.”

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In response to Sasse, Whitehouse issued a statement, saying, “The invective from the right has been persistent and vitriolic, but it avoids the basic question: Did the FBI do a real investigation, and why did they not answer questions about it for two years? However much noise there is, those questions should be answered.”

Earlier this month, Americans for Public Trust, a conservative nonprofit, launched a six-figure ad buy, accusing Whitehouse of hypocrisy for skewering dark money groups, especially those involved in the judicial nomination process.

”Sheldon Whitehouse has a dirty little secret,” the ad says. “He relentlessly attacks dark money, harping on its supposed evils. But at the same time, he’s backed by liberal dark money. A lot of it.”

Whitehouse cited the ad in a fund-raising letter, saying, “A squid squirts out black ink to create a distraction when it’s threatened. This TV ad is squid ink, squirted out from increasingly nervous dark-money groups.”

With that squid reference, let the record reflect that Whitehouse represents the “Calamari Comeback State.”

THE GLOBE IN RHODE ISLAND

⚓ My latest: Governor Daniel J. McKee is vowing to testify against a bill that would place a three-year moratorium on charter school expansion in Rhode Island. Read more.

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Brian Amaral reports that WaterFire, the Rhode Island tradition in which performers in boats float down the Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers, setting braziers of wood on fire, will be back for 2021. Read more.

Amanda Milkovits reports that by the end of 2020, Rhode Island had more than doubled the number of background checks on people seeking to buy guns, and it had the second-highest percentage increase of background checks in the nation. Read more.

⚓ Rhode Island’s Mary Ann Sorrentino writes that the sense of community with usually distant neighbors and others in this time when all of us have been forced to stare death in the face makes us understand that real equality rests in our common vulnerability. Read more.

Nicholas L. Scaglione, a Cranston man charged in the torching a Providence police car during a riot in June, has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors. Read more.

MORE ON BOSTONGLOBE.COM

Sports: Four-time NBA MVP and business mogul LeBron James says it’s “pretty damn cool” for him and his business partner Maverick Carter to be the first Black men to be part of the Boston Red Sox ownership group. Read more.

Coronavirus: Tom Mountain, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, urges his “conservative middle-age brethren” to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Read more.

Running: Dick Hoyt, a longtime symbol of the Boston Marathon who ran the race with his son, Rick, for decades, has died at age 80. Read more.

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Business: The union representing local hotel workers has launched a website identifying dozens of hotels in the Boston area that it says have not committed to rehiring furloughed workers when business returns. Read more.

WHAT’S ON TAP TODAY

Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

⚓ At 1 p.m., Governor Daniel J. McKee and the state Department of Health will hold the weekly COVID-19 briefing.

⚓ At 4 p.m., the House Finance Committee will meet to hear testimony from Christiansen Capital Advisors about a proposed no-bid 20-year state lottery contract extension for IGT and contract extensions with Twin River and its affiliates. Read more.

⚓ At 4 p.m., advocates will hold a car rally and speaking program at the State House to demand that the state provide a safe parking lot for homeless people with no place to stay other than in their vehicles. More than 250 Rhode Islanders are sleeping outside or in their cars, advocates say.

⚓ At 4 p.m., the House Oversight Committee will meet to a strategic planning update from officials at Rhode Island College and the Council of Postsecondary Education. The meeting follows controversy over the hiring of the New York-based firm Alvarez & Marsal at $76,000 a week. After the Globe reported on the contract, it was dropped. Read more.

⚓ At 7 p.m., the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee will meet to consider legislation including the “Act on Climate Act,” introduced by Representative Lauren H. Carson, that would create a statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction mandate. The Senate approved a companion bill on Tuesday. Read more.

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Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.