Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford weren’t the only ones to face questions Thursday at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her allegation of sexual assault: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, came in for some grilling as well.
Senate Republicans, determined to press their strategy that the controversy threatening Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a Democratic “con job,” as President Trump calls it, repeatedly blamed Feinstein, accusing her of bottling up Ford’s allegation for weeks and then having it leaked only as the committee and the Senate neared votes on the nominee.
Their tactic had another political angle — roughing up the California Democrat just weeks before she is up for reelection in the midterm election in November. It’s far from clear, however, that GOP attacks would have their intended effect; they instead could solidify support for Feinstein on her party’s left, which has been cool to her candidacy.
Through most of the hearing, after defending herself in her opening statement, Feinstein mostly ignored the repeated jabs. At the end of a hearing that stretched nearly nine hours, however, the California senator interrupted Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, to push back.
“I did not hide Dr. Ford’s allegations. I did not leak her story,” Feinstein said emphatically. “l was given some information by a woman who was very much afraid, who asked that it be held confidential, and I held it confidential until she decided that she would come forward.”
Nearly every Republican on the committee, and Kavanaugh too, critically singled out Feinstein. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina who burnished his status as one of Trump’s most vocal allies, angrily charged that Democrats led by Feinstein were “lying in wait” to release Ford’s original letter making her accusation.
“Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready,” Kavanaugh said. “This first allegation was held in secret for weeks by a Democratic member of this committee, and by staff. It would be needed only if you couldn't take me out on the merits.”
Feinstein kept the secret for weeks after receiving the letter in which Ford made her allegation on July 30. She stayed mum even while meeting with Kavanaugh and through days of the committee’s initial confirmation hearing questioning the nominee.
Republicans — countering Feinstein’s claim that she kept Ford’s complaint private, even from other Democrats, to honor Ford’s desire for privacy — insisted that they could have investigated the allegation while protecting Ford’s identity and without delaying the confirmation process.
Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a researcher at Stanford’s School of Medicine, decided to go public Sept. 16 — with an interview in the Washington Post — after news and vague details about her letter to Feinstein and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, the Democrat from Menlo Park who is Ford’s congresswoman, leaked to the news media. That forced the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to reopen its hearing into Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Ford, in her opening statement, thanked Feinstein for respecting her original demand for confidentiality.
Feinstein, in her own opening statement early in the hearing, forcefully defended herself after days of criticism and in anticipation of the Republicans’ attacks.
“Yes, I did receive a letter from Dr. Ford,” conveyed by Eshoo, Feinstein said, noting that she called Ford the next day.
“She reiterated that she wanted this held confidential. And I held it confidential, up to a point where the witness was willing to come forward,” she said.
She added: “Because how women are treated in the United States, with this kind of concern, is really wanting a lot of reform.”
Otherwise at the hearing, Feinstein mostly kept quiet as Republicans took their swipes. That she should be a target in a controversy involving a Supreme Court nominee facing allegations of sexual misconduct had some irony: Feinstein was first elected to the Senate in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman that reflected widespread anger about the Senate’s treatment of Anita Hill after her accusations against Clarence Thomas, who went on to be confirmed.
One Democrat, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, came to Feinstein’s defense, and that of Democrats more broadly. She told Republicans they were focusing on the complaints about alleged political manipulation to change the conversation from Ford’s compelling and widely praised testimony about Kavanaugh’s alleged attack on her when she was 15 and he was 17.
“They want to distract us,” Hirono said of Republicans, “from what happened here this morning.”