The bitter Senate is fighting to confirm that Brett M. Kavanaugh ended up in deeper chaos on Thursday when a Democrat revealed that she & # 39; information & # 39; about the nominee president of President Trump had referred to the FBI.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Gave a short, cryptic statement about the reference, but the absence of details only raised questions. The information came in a letter describing an alleged episode of sexual misconduct involving 53-year-old Kavanaugh when he was in high school, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The White House condemned the move as a desperate, last-minute campaign to demolish a qualified candidate, and the FBI does not intend to investigate the issue that erupted publicly when the Democrats complained that Kavanaugh was unsuitable for the high court.
The abrupt unveiling came when an intense political fight over Kavanaugh's confirmation continued to escalate, with a handful of moderate senators who would determine his fate, deliberating on how they would vote for a nominee who could shift the court's balance to the right for generations.
Top Senate Republicans said Kavanaugh's nomination remains on track, but two swing GOP votes – Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – have not announced their positions and are facing intense pressure at home to oppose Kavanaugh, injecting uncertainty in the outcome. Collins said she still had questions and plans to talk to Kavanaugh on Friday. In Alaska, the largest Indian organization of the state Murkowski urged the nominee to reject.
Democrats have raised more and more questions at Kavanaugh, confronting an angry liberal base urging senators to do everything in their power to lower their nomination – sometimes without offering public evidence of their claims.
Senate Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked some written questions about gambling, including whether the judge had ever reported a gambling loss to the tax authorities and whether Kavanaugh had sought treatment for a gambling addiction. The nominee said no to both questions.
"All of our questions were based on documents produced to the committee, information passed on by law enforcement, or media investigations on the subject we became aware of," Whitehouse said.
But the drama on Thursday focused on the mysterious letter.
Democrats in the committee first learned about the contents of the letter at a meeting held at the last minute on Wednesday evening. The letter was passed on to Feinstein, the best Democrat in the Judiciary Committee, by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Said two people who were familiar with the issue.
"That person strongly asked for confidentiality, refused to come forward or pushed the matter further, and I honored that decision," Feinstein said in a statement. "However, I referred the case to federal investigative authorities."
Emma Crisci, a spokesperson for Eshoo, said she could not comment because of a confidentiality policy with subsidiary cases.
Other Democratic senators in the committee – who had been outraged by the GOP for weeks about the way in which they were nominated by Kavanaugh – refused to comment on the content of the letter and the uncertainty it caused. But privately, some of the Democrats had asked Feinstein about the contents of the letter, when the past week or so was talking about its existence, resulting in the last minute just outside the Senate chamber.
The White House immediately pushed back development as a "smear" attempt to derail Kavanaugh's confirmation, which the Senate Republicans intend to complete before October 1, the first day of the court's autumn term. The Senate judiciary decided on Thursday to vote on the nomination on 20 September.
"During his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh had 65 senatorial meetings – including with Senator Feinstein – had more than 30 hours of testimonies, more than 2,000 questions in a public setting, and additional questions in a confidential session," White House Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. & # 39; Only on the eve of his confirmation does Senator Feinstein or someone have the ghost of new & # 39; information & # 39; raised about him. & # 39;
Kupec noted that the FBI "thoroughly and repeatedly investigated Kavanaugh during his 25-year career in public services, including work in the Office of Independent Counsel under Kenneth Starr, the George W. Bush White House, and his current position on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
The spokeswoman also accused the minority leader of the senate, Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Of the brain behind the latest developments surrounding the letter. But an assistant from Schumer said that the senator did not have access to the letter.
The White House has not sent back any specific comments on the accusation of sexual misconduct.
Several officials confirmed that the letter had been referred to the FBI. But the agency does not intend to conduct a criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the case – a probe that would normally be handled by local authorities if it were within the statute of limitations.
Instead, the FBI passed on the material to the White House as an update of Kavanaugh's background check, which has already been completed, the person said. The move is similar to what the firm did when accusations were made against the former White House employee, Rob Porter, who resigned earlier this year after the rise of accusations of domestic accusations by two former spouses.
After the White House received the material from the FBI, which it did early Thursday afternoon, it sent the information to the Senate judiciary committee, according to an administrative official.
"After receiving the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of the background file of Judge Kavanaugh, according to the standard process," said a FBI spokesperson. The Ministry of Justice declined to comment.
The allegation of sexual misconduct in the letter was first reported by the New York Times. The existence of the letter was first reported by the news site the interception. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Thursday morning that he had not seen the letter, so he could not comment on its contents.
The controversy arose in the final phase of Kavanaugh's confirmation fight, while the Democrats were trying to slow down the process.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Plans to vote in the full senate in the last week of September. Feinstein's revelation did not change the timeline, as a Grassley spokesman confirmed that the vote in committee would go as planned.
In a room where Republicans have a majority of 51 to 49, Kavanaugh is confirmed as long as he does not lose more than one GOP vote. While Collins and Murkowski have not announced their decisions, they have not shown any signs in public that they have trouble getting a "yes" to his confirmation.
When asked if she wanted to see the letter that began the controversy on Thursday, Collins refused to respond, saying she would not make public comments until she was ready to announce her position.
But her office had to contend with a series of appeals from Kavanaugh opponents, with protests sometimes coming in a profane and vulgar way, denounced by Republican senators and some Democrats. On Thursday, a cardboard cutout of male genitals of a meter long, accompanied by a curse, was sent to Collins' Washington office, her staff said.
Collins was already targeting a crowdfunding campaign that covered $ 1 million of anti-Kavanaugh activists, who promised to donate money to a challenger from Collins during her re-election in 2020, if she would vote to confirm him. A Collins spokeswoman called it an attempt to extort.
Meanwhile, in a clear attempt to influence Murkowski, the influential Alaska Federation of Natives said that Kavanaugh's legal views on Indian rights are "disturbing" and bad for "for indigenous peoples, particularly Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians."
When she entered the offices of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Murkowski said she had no update on her thoughts about Kavanaugh.
Among the Democrats there were three more moderate senators who would vote as the most likely in favor of Kavanaugh, still have to make a decision. Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) And Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) continued to deliberate on Thursday and Manchin was looking for a second sit-down meeting with Kavanaugh.
Some other Democrats – including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) – announced Thursday their opposition to Kavanaugh. Leahy also said that he supported how Feinstein had handled the disclosure of sensitive information. & # 39; She is not a person to stain someone, & # 39; Leahy said. "She has always done her job, she has always done it with integrity."
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has rejected the controversy on Twitter.
"Let me understand this: this is it [a] statement about [a] secret letter relating to a secret case and an unidentified person. Well, "he sarcastically tweeted. "I will add: the FBI has already acted and reported on a background study of the nominee and this has been made available to all Senators in the Judiciary Committee."
Matt Zapotosky, Robert Barnes and Amy Brittain contributed to this report.