Dianne Feinstein Refers ‘Secret’ Letter About Kavanaugh To F.B.I.
Some last minute dramatics in the Kavanaugh nomination fight, but it seems unlikely to impact the outcome of the nomination fight.
The contents of a secret letter that California Senator Dianne Feinstein allegedly received in July and which she has now referred to the F.B.I. have become the latest controversy in the confirmation battle over Judge Brett Kavanaugh:
WASHINGTON — The senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee referred information involving Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, to federal investigators on Thursday, but the senator declined to make public what the matter involved.
Two officials familiar with the matter say the incident involved possible sexual misconduct between Judge Kavanaugh and a woman when they were both in high school. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California came a week before the Judiciary Committee is to vote on his nomination. “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. “That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”
The information came in July in a letter, which was first sent to the office of Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, and accuses the judge of sexual misconduct toward the letter’s author, a person familiar with the letter confirmed.
Ms. Feinstein, who received the letter from Ms. Eshoo’s office, informed fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee about its existence and its contents on Wednesday evening but did not share the letter itself. Several Democrats advised her to take its claims to the F.B.I., and others pressed for it to become public.
In addition to criminal investigations, the F.B.I. conducts background checks on all major government appointees, including Supreme Court nominees. The F.B.I. said in a statement on Thursday that it had received Ms. Feinstein’s referral and included it in Judge Kavanaugh’s background file. A bureau official also said that no criminal investigation had been opened related to the matter.
Including the letter in Judge Kavanaugh’s file allows the White House, and potentially other senators, to view its contents. A copy of the letter was included in an updated background file sent on Thursday to the office of Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The White House responded almost immediately.
“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She added, “Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”
Aides to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said he has not seen the letter, but he believes the committee is handling the matter appropriately.
The move by Ms. Feinstein came after the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a series of party-line votes, rejected Democrats’ efforts on Thursday to subpoena documents and testimony into Judge Kavanaugh’s years as a top White House aide under President George W. Bush.
Democrats have accused Mr. Kavanaugh of evading and misleading the committee during last week’s confirmation hearings, and continuing those charges, volleyed a series of requests for more information centering on some of the most contentious issues that surfaced, including his views on executive power and his relationship with a former Republican Senate aide who stole documents from Senate Democrats.
“We have more questions than answers and the only way to address these concerns about Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility before this committee is to hear from those witnesses,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said.
The Democratic demands included testimony from the Senate aide, Manuel Miranda, who passed Mr. Kavanaugh documents that were illegally copied from Democratic computers. Senate Democrats grilled the judge during the hearings on whether he knew or suspected that materials he received from Mr. Miranda as staff secretary under President Bush had been taken from the files of Senate Democrats without their authorization.
Committee Democrats also sought to subpoena documents related to Mr. Kavanaugh’s knowledge of Bush-era enhanced interrogation and warrantless wiretapping policies. Democrats have accused Mr. Kavanaugh of playing down his role in each program; he has maintained he was not aware of the policies and learned of them only from news reports.
Republicans rejected each of those requests on Thursday, and dismissed the Democrats’ efforts as theatrical bids to appeal to their bases. Mr. Grassley said they will go ahead with a committee vote on Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination in Senate on Sept. 20.
Subsequent to the news of the referral, The Washington Post reported that the Bureau had declined to open an investigation into the matter and had instead referred the matter to the White House. As noted, though, the letter is now apparently part of the file generally available to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate as a whole. Obviously, the news about the letter set off a wild round of speculation on social media regarding what might be alleged in the document, but the rumors that have emerged don’t seem to amount to very much:
News of the letter came as Judge Kavanaugh faced fresh scrutiny about his relationship with another judge, who was forced to resign from the bench last year.
“I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court,” Feinstein said in a statement.
“That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities,” she said.
A source who said they were briefed on the contents of the letter said it described an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman that took place when both were 17 years old and at a party. According to the source, Kavanaugh and a male friend had locked her in a room against her will, making her feel threatened, but she was able to get out of the room. The Guardian has not verified the apparent claims in the letter. It is not yet clear who wrote it.
It seems rather obvious that this letter, and the manner in which it has been released, is part of a last-minute effort to undermine Kavanaugh’s nomination against what appears to be an inevitable confirmation. Yesterday, the Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee easily beat back a series of Democratic efforts to subpoena additional documents from the George W. Bush Presidential Library related to the time that Kavanaugh served as Bush’s Staff Secretary, a position that meant that he reviewed virtually every document that eventually crossed the President’s desk. Additionally, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley set a final committee vote on the nomination for September 20th. At that point, barring anything unforeseen, the Committee will vote on a party-line vote to send the nomination to the floor where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will no doubt seek to act quickly to get Kavanaugh confirmed before the Supreme Court reconvenes on October 1st.
As for the letter itself, it’s hard to reach any conclusions without knowing the nature of the accusations being known, and I would submit that it is unfair to both Kavanaugh and anyone else who may have been involved in the alleged incident. It’s also worth noting that other rumors regarding the contents of the letter differ from those reported by The Guardian and suggest that whatever may have happened between Kavanaugh and the unnamed woman was entirely consensual, although it technically may have violated age of consent laws that were in place at the time. Even if the narrative set forth in the excerpt from The Guardian above is accurate, it’s hard to see how this would derail Kavanaugh’s nomination in any significant respect unless there was evidence of more contemporaneous behavior of a similar nature. Given how detailed the examination of Kavanaugh’s background has been, though, one imagines that any such incidents would likely have come forward by now.
Update: As I suspected they would the contents of the letter have largely become public:
WASHINGTON — A secretive letter shared with authorities by the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee charges that a teenage Brett M. Kavanaugh and a male friend trapped a teenage girl in a bedroom during a party and tried to assault her, according to three people familiar with the contents of the letter.
According to the letter, Mr. Kavanaugh, then a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in suburban Washington and now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, had been drinking at a social gathering when he and the male friend took the teenage girl into a bedroom. The door was locked, and she was thrown on the bed, the letter says. Mr. Kavanaugh then got on top of the teenager and put a hand over her mouth, and music was turned up, according to the account.
But the young woman was able to extricate herself and leave the room before anything else occurred, the letter says.
The woman considered the incident an assault. She has declined to be publicly identified, and asked Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, not to publicize the letter.
The episode took place more than 30 years ago, when all three individuals involved were minors. The New York Times has not seen the letter, but its contents were described by the three people.
In a statement shared by the White House, Mr. Kavanaugh said the charges were false.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” he said. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
As of Friday morning, senators were still planning to move ahead with Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a key vote to advance the nomination next Thursday, and Republican leaders hope to hold a final vote of the full Senate before the end of September to allow Mr. Kavanaugh to be seated before the start of the Supreme Court’s fall term.
On Thursday, the White House all but accused Democrats of playing dirty, withholding mysterious information until the eve of Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation in a last-ditch effort to derail a nominee they have always opposed.
“Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th-hour attempt to delay his confirmation,” said Kerri Kupec, a White House spokeswoman, referring to the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer. Aides to Mr. Schumer said he had not seen the letter.
This pretty much matches the rumors that had been circulating since yesterday and, as I say in the original post above, it doesn’t seem to me that this allegation from forty years ago when both Kavanaugh and the woman in question were minors amounts to anything significant enough to stop his negotiation. This would seem to be especially true given the fact that the woman involved did not want the letter made public and is declining to come forward.