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Feinstein asks FBI to review letter involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Feinstein asks FBI to review letter involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. arrives in the Capitol on her way to the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on June 5, 2018. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

A letter reportedly alleging a decades-old incident involving Brett Kavanaugh has been referred to the FBI for review — the latest blow in the partisan and bitter battle over President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

The letter originally was given to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She declined to release it publicly, and its details remain unclear.

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“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.”

Late last week, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee privately expressed frustration that Feinstein was refusing to share the contents of the letter even with them, according to several sources. The referral to the FBI was seen as a way to address the issue without violating the confidentiality that Feinstein sought to protect.

Several Democrats on the committee declined to talk about the contents of the letter on Thursday after a hearing in which a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination was slated for Sept. 20. It was unclear whether they had seen it.

Anyone can make a referral to the FBI and it does not mean Kavanaugh is under federal investigation. Kavanaugh’s nomination is under intense scrutiny by Democrats who argue he would be the fifth solid conservative justice on the Supreme Court, a lock for Republican priorities such as scaling back abortion rights.

Republicans pledged that a committee vote on Kavanaugh would move forward as planned next week and a White House official blasted the referral as an “11th-hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Sen. 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 Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec.

Kupec said the FBI has repeatedly vetted Kavanaugh dating back to 1993 for his White House and judicial roles.

An FBI spokesperson confirmed that the bureau had received the referral on Wednesday evening and included it as part of Kavanaugh’s background file “as per the standard process.”

The existence of the letter was first reported by the Intercept, an online news publication. It said the letter apparently describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a young woman while they were in high school, but included no details.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is aware of the referral but hasn’t seen the letter, a spokesman said.

“There’s no plan to change the committee’s consideration of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said.

The letter was given to Feinstein by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), who got it from a college professor who wrote about the incident, according to Democratic sources. A spokesperson for Eshoo declined to comment on what she called a constituent matter.

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