Dianne Feinstein criticized for keeping Brett Kavanaugh assault claims under wraps
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s decision to bottle up incendiary allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh until the 11th hour has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans who said it appears Democrats didn’t even believe the accuser they are now pushing to have testify to Congress.
Ms. Feinstein says she was trying to protect the confidentiality of the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who has since come forward and publicly identified herself six weeks after she sent a letter to Ms. Feinstein.
But the California Democrat’s handling of the matter fed into Republicans’ suspicions that Democrats were up to something fishy, leaking the information just days before a key committee vote and too late for Judge Kavanaugh to defend himself at his weeklong hearing earlier this month.
Ms. Feinstein defended her handling of the matter but acknowledged regrets over how it has played out, after Ms. Ford had detailed the allegations in a July 30 letter to the senator that was marked confidential.
“Well, if I had it to do over again, and it hadn’t been brought to me as confidential I think I’m not going to do any more confidential,” Ms. Feinstein said. “This was brought to me as confidential, and I maintained that and it came out, and obviously all I’m saying is if somebody wants to tell me something that’s fine, but it’s my judgment what to do with it then.”
But nearly a year after the #MeToo movement swept Hollywood and Capitol Hill, the senator’s handling of the allegation has angered Republicans and left Democrats rushing to say they actually do accept Ms. Ford’s version of events, despite not acting initially.
“I believe her. Many, many, many Americans believe her,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
Republicans, for their part, said Ms. Ford deserves to be heard and said that’s why they were so stunned at Ms. Feinstein’s handling.
“It seems in bad faith to hold this information from Republicans and from the FBI for over a month and then to suggest at the final hour that the only path forward is delaying the confirmation to allow the FBI to investigate,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.
According to The Washington Post, Ms. Ford first sent a tip to the paper’s tip line in early July and alerted Rep. Anna Eshoo. In her letter to Ms. Feinstein, Ms. Ford went into detail about her allegation that, when she and Judge Kavanaugh were high school students at a party in Montgomery County, the future Supreme Court nominee assaulted her and attempted to strip her clothes off while holding his hand over her mouth.
Debra Katz, an attorney for Ms. Ford, said that she had asked Ms. Feinstein to keep Ms. Ford’s letter and allegations confidential and that the senator agreed to do so but that the decision ultimately was “taken away from her” once the story started to surface and members of the press started digging into Ms. Ford’s background.
“She knew that her allegations were going to be outed, and that, in fact, is what occurred, and as a result she decided to take control of this and tell this in her own voice,” Ms. Katz said on CNN Monday.
Ms. Katz said Ms. Ford went to the senator because she thought she had information that had bearing on the fitness and character of Judge Kavanaugh.
Under pressure from fellow Democrats who heard about the letter, Ms. Feinstein finally briefed her party colleagues on the Judiciary Committee last week. She also said she sent the letter to the FBI. A source familiar with the nomination said the FBI didn’t investigate but rather forwarded the letter to the White House for inclusion in the judge’s nomination file.
Ms. Feinstein is up for re-election in November and her opponent is a fellow Democrat running to her left. That man, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, blasted Mrs. Feinstein for sitting on the allegation for so long.
“The woman in question asked for anonymity; she didn’t ask for inaction,” Mr. de Leon tweeted.
Republicans were just as critical.
“What is puzzling to me is the Democrats, by not bringing this out earlier, after having had this information for more than six weeks, have managed to cast a cloud of doubt on both the professor and the judge,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, told The New York Times. “If they believed Professor Ford, why didn’t they surface this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it? And if they didn’t believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it? It is really not fair to either of them the way it is was handled.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the allegations surfaced because of Democratic leaks to the media.
“The chain of custody of this letter runs through the Democratic side of the judiciary committee,” he said.