Supreme Court

Kavanaugh says Feinstein was ‘lying in wait’ with sexual assault allegations

Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks at the opening of the hearing on sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks at the opening of the hearing on sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate Judiciary Committee. C-SPAN

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tore into Sen. Dianne Feinstein in his Senate Judicial Committee testimony Thursday, saying she was engaged in a starkly partisan attack.

“Some of you were lying in wait, and had it ready,” an emotional Kavanaugh said in his opening statement, citing a letter Feinstein received in July detailing accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault.

“It was given weeks ago to the ranking member, and then it was sprung on me,” Kavanaugh said.

Feinstein, the top committee Democrat, has said she received the letter in July, but its contents weren’t made public until September. Republicans have repeatedly blamed Feinstein for not bringing the accusation to their attention earlier, implying political motivation due to the late timing.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, used his opening statement in the hearing Thursday to repeatedly call Feinstein’s handling of the letter into question.

Feinstein has maintained she was trying to protect Blasey Ford, who told the California senator at the time she did not want her identity to be made public.

Thursday, the senator tried to get Kavanaugh to explain why he did not call for an FBI investigation, as Democrats and Ford had sought. Kavanaugh responded he would have gone along with any investigation sought by the committee. He repeatedly evaded Democrats’ attempts to have him call for an FBI investigation.

Earlier in the day, Feinstein accused committee Republicans of mistreating women. Feinstein compared what she said was mistreatment of Ford to the plight of Anita Hill, who appeared at a committee hearing 27 years ago to make allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas, then a nominee to the Supreme Court.

“I saw an attractive woman in a blue suit, before an all-male Judiciary Committee. … She was treated badly,” Feinstein said of when she watched Hill’s hearing, a year before she was elected to the Senate.

Today, “within 36 hours of coming forward, Republicans scheduled a hearing without checking with Dr. Ford to see if she would testify,” Feinstein said. “It took a public outcry before the majority would back down and even give her a few days to decide to come before this committee.”

“Is he the best we can do?” she said in conclusion of her opening statement.

Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of groping her and attempting to take off her clothes while he was drunk and they were both in high school.

Other accusers have come forward since Blasey Ford, with one saying Kavanaugh was involved with a group that drugged and gang raped women in high school. Another woman said Kavanaugh put his genitals in her face during his freshman year at Yale University.

Kavanaugh Thursday emphatically denied all of the allegations.

Feinstein asked Blasey Ford to tell her how she knew her attacker back then was Kavanaugh and not another boy, as some Republicans have suggested.

“The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now,” Blasey Ford replied, saying there was “absolutely not” a chance that this was a case of mistaken identity.

Since Blasey Ford’s and other sexual assault allegations came out against Kavanaugh, Feinstein and other Senate Judiciary Democrats have called for first delaying Kavanaugh’s nomination and ultimately pulling it completely.

Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Kavanaugh himself have all signaled they plan to continue moving forward with the confirmation process.

The committee, which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, is expected to vote Friday, and the full Senate could vote as soon as early next week.

“We ask that you immediately request an FBI investigation or support the withdrawal of this nominee, but at a minimum the vote that has been scheduled for Friday must be canceled,” Judiciary Democrats wrote in a letter led by Feinstein to Grassley Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday’s initiatives were a more aggressive role for Feinstein, who rarely even reveals how she plans to vote for nominees beforehand, let alone calling for them to withdraw. Usually, she keeps her internal deliberations and talks with other senators private.

But ever since the sexual assault allegations became public, Feinstein has been inextricably tied to Kavanaugh’s accuser. Those links reach past Kavanaugh’s nomination, back to before Feinstein was a senator and watching the Hill hearings from London in 1991.

Feinstein was one of four female Democratic senators elected in 1992, the year after the Hill-Thomas hearings. Feinstein has said the image of Hill facing off against an entirely male Judiciary Committee further motivated her to run for Senate. After she was elected, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden asked her to be the first woman to serve on the committee.

Twenty-seven years later, Feinstein has the weight of showing the country how having a woman at the center of the committee will matter in hearing the voices of other women, even as her Republican colleagues publicly fault her for not handling the allegations correctly.

Additionally, Feinstein has a highly progressive challenger this election cycle in Kevin de Leon, who has criticized her for how she handled the allegations.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby
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