This afternoon, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein confirmed earlier reporting that she had received a letter about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and that she had passed it along to the FBI. She revealed no details, and the reporting on the letter has been vague to say the least. So what’s really going on here? What kind of criminal matter is this? And why didn’t she just publicly out him instead? We can give you some insight into all of the above.
Let’s start with what we know. Here’s what Dianne Feinstein is saying about the matter: “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. 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.” This tells us more than you might think.
First, Feinstein wouldn’t have referred this to the FBI unless there’s a prosecutable alleged crime involved. So it’s completely fair to assume that the woman’s letter accuses Brett Kavanaugh of a felony, and that the statute of limitations has not expired. In other words, the FBI will criminally investigate Kavanaugh for this. BuzzFeed, which has a solid track record on these things, says that prominent “Me Too” attorney Debra Katz was seen on Capitol Hill last night just as this story was breaking, leading many to believe that she’s representing the unnamed woman. If she is representing the woman, it would all but confirm that this is a sexual assault accusation of some kind.
The New York Times now says that according to its sources, the letter “included the allegation of sexual misconduct toward the letter’s author” and that the incident took place when they were both in high school. For reference, Kavanaugh went to high school at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland. Also for reference, the State of Maryland has no statute of limitations for felony sexual offenses. Again, we don’t know for sure what Kavanaugh has been specifically accused of in the letter. This does make clear that this is not strictly about the felony perjury that Kavanaugh committed last week, or even the circumstantial evidence that he has a gambling problem. But the more immediate questions are focused on why Dianne Feinstein handled things in this manner.
Senator Feinstein made clear in her statement that the woman in question does not want to come forward publicly, and it certainly makes sense that Feinstein would want to honor that. But there may be a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Feinstein is fiercely opposed to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, and she tends to be consistently (if sometimes quietly) aggressive when it comes to getting what she wants. Kavanaugh knows what really happened between him and this woman, and by simply allowing it to be known that she’s made a criminal referral to the FBI in this matter, she’s giving him a chance to walk away.
Let’s say that Kavanaugh withdraws his nomination before Monday. In such case he might be able to disappear quickly enough that his secret never comes out. Maybe he gets to retain his current position as a federal judge. Maybe he gets to keep his marriage intact. Maybe he gets to avoid going to prison. We don’t think the FBI will drop the matter just because he walks away from the nomination, but if nothing else, public attention might subside. Feinstein appears to be giving him the opportunity to walk away before this blows up.
There is also the question of why Dianne Feinstein hasn’t shared this letter with her Democratic colleagues. The Intercept, which routinely tries to falsely scandalize prominent Democrats, is painting the other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee as being outraged at her. However, this rings false on a number of levels. The most plausible explanation is that Feinstein didn’t share this with the Democrats on the committee so she’d have an excuse not to share it with the Republicans on the committee either. The worst case scenario here is that a Senate Republican dishonestly spins this letter before it becomes public, thus muddying the waters and insulating Kavanaugh.
The bottom line here is that this is absolutely not going away. Dianne Feinstein is too smart, and too politically savvy, not to have a gameplan here for using this letter to derail the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. She’s also a team player, and it’s nearly a given that other Senate Democrats are in on her plan. If he doesn’t swiftly walk away from the nomination, we’ll see what she has up her sleeve as far as her next move. If Kavanaugh tries to hang in there, then one way or another, this will all come out before he can be confirmed.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report