Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) hasn’t complied with repeated requests from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to release an unredacted version of a letter that’s crucial to the committee’s investigation of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The letter in question, written by Christine Blasey Ford and dated July 30, 2018, details an allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford at a party while they were in high school 36 years ago. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegation, most recently under oath before the committee on Sept. 17, according to a spokesperson for Grassley’s office.
Since Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, disclosed the existence of the letter and forwarded it to the FBI, Grassley’s office made several requests for a copy, to which Feinstein’s office hasn’t responded as of the afternoon of Sept. 20, a spokesperson for Grassley confirmed.
“The only version we have of this letter is a redacted version contained in the supplemental FBI background investigation file that only senators and a handful of very select staff are authorized to read,” Grassley wrote in a formal request addressed to Feinstein on Sept. 19.
“Sexual-assault allegations deserve serious attention, and those who make such allegations must be heard. They should not be deployed strategically for political gain.
“You received this letter approximately seven weeks ago. But the contents of the letter were leaked only last week when it appeared the Senate was about to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
Feinstein’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Feinstein only revealed Ford’s letter after Kavanaugh had met with dozens of senators, went through background calls with lawmakers, faced 32 hours of testimony, including a closed-door session dedicated to discussing sensitive matters, and answered more than 1,300 questions in a written questionnaire.
Feinstein has said that she held on to the letter because Ford wanted to remain anonymous. Grassley wrote there were many opportunities to raise the allegation privately and that Feinstein instead “chose to sit on the allegations until a politically opportune moment.”
“I cannot overstate how disappointed I am in this decision,” Grassley wrote.
The standoff over the letter continued with less than 24 hours left before a 10 a.m. Sept. 21 deadline Grassley set for Ford to indicate whether she will testify before the committee on Sept. 24. At least two Republicans have called for a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation if Ford refuses to testify.
None of the Democrats on the committee attended the Sept. 17 questioning of Kavanaugh, when the judge “fully, candidly, and unequivocally answered all questions.”
“He understood that he was under penalty of felony if he was not truthful,” Grassley wrote. “We have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony.”
Republicans on the committee invited Democrats to participate in the investigative process, but the Democrats declined, according to Grassley.
Ford’s lawyer told multiple media outlets that her client would be willing to testify, but later backtracked and demanded that the FBI conduct a full investigation before Ford appears before the committee. The FBI said that it isn’t investigating the allegation.
In an earlier letter to Ford’s attorney, Grassley explained that “it is not the FBI’s role to investigate a matter such as this” and that the responsibility lies squarely with the Senate.
Ford’s lawyer wrote to Grassley on Sept. 20 in an email obtained by The New York Times that a hearing on Sept. 24, as scheduled by the committee, “is not possible” and that the committee’s insistence on the date is “arbitrary in any event.”
The lawyer asked to set up a call with Grassley to discuss the terms of Ford’s testimony.
“She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” the attorney wrote. “Her strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow a full investigation prior to her testimony.”
Feinstein argued for an FBI investigation on Sept. 20 by referring to the 1991 FBI probe of accusations by Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas.
“It’s time for the FBI to do the same today. Why are Republicans resisting an investigation?” Feinstein wrote on Twitter.
Grassley had already outlined the differences between the two cases in a letter to the Democrats on the committee, explaining that the FBI conducted a “handful of interviews” in 1991 but not a full investigation. Unlike Ford’s case, Hill’s allegations were private when the bureau conducted the interviews. In a matter of days, the FBI passed on their findings to the White House, which appended the findings to Thomas’s background file and shared it with the committee as a courtesy.
One of the FBI’s reports to the White House in 1991 was leaked and the committee reopened the confirmation hearings five days later.
“We are in the same position the Committee was in after Professor Hill’s allegations were leaked,” Grassley wrote. “After that leak, we did not ask the FBI to conduct an investigation. Instead, we reopened the hearing and assessed the testimony that was given on our own. As in 1991, it is now up to the Senate to gather and assess the relevant evidence.”