Why Feinstein Kept Sexual Assault Letter Secret


difiwomenFour days before sending the FBI a confidential and anonymous #MeToo letter that has roiled the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in an interview that his confirmation was not a done deal.

“We’re not finished,” the California Democrat told at least half of us, in a 30- minute sit down at the Four Seasons Resort-The Biltmore in Santa Barbara on Sept. 9, that followed a talk to local Democratic women.

“Staff will be going through all of the transcripts, picking up things, underlining things, messages will be coming in, information will be given to the committee,” she added, in advance of a “markup” at this week’s meeting of the Judiciary Committee, on which she is the ranking Democrat. “Always is.”

Whether or not Feinstein, in mentioning new information and “messages coming in” was, consciously or unconsciously, referencing the startling, then-secret letter from Bay Area professor Christine Blasey Ford that charges Kavanaugh with sexual assault back in high school, the sudden furor over the allegations demonstrates that she was correct in assessing that Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointment is not a fait accompli.

“From the outset, I have believed these allegations were extremely serious and bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh,” Feinstein said a statement this Sunday, shortly after Ford herself made her charge public. “I hope the attacks and shaming of her will stop and this will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.”

The statement also made clear why she kept Ford’s letter confidential for weeks, an answer to attacks from across the political spectrum: her feminist belief that the choice to tell the story was Ford’s — not her own.

Christine-Blasey-Ford-648x381The mysterious letter. As majority Senate Republicans rushed to push through Trump’s nomination in time for the court session that begins Oct. 1, Ford on July 31 sent a letter to Feinstein, via Rep. Anna Eshoo, alleging that as a prep school student, a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party, molested her and muffled her screams. She asked it be kept confidential. (CNN has published the text of the letter).

Despite the lurid details in her description, Ford said she wanted to keep the story private, fearing that she would be battered in a political brawl and he would be confirmed anyway. Feinstein reportedly told no one about the letter, except for a few aides, until September 12, when The Intercept news site reported the existence of the letter and said Feinstein refused to share it with Democratic colleagues.

That day Feinstein sent it to the FBI, and was promptly assailed on all sides: Republicans accused her of a cheap last-minute smear and Democrats protested her secrecy, while Beltway pundits ripped her and re-election foe, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, condemned her “lack of leadership.”

On Sunday, Sept. 16, for the first time, Ford went public, in an interview with the Washington Post: “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she said of Kavanaugh, who “categorically and unequivocally” denies the incident. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Ford’s attorney since has repeatedly given Feinstein shout-outs for respecting her client’s previous plea for secrecy, most notably on CNN , in the Post and in an interview with the NYT:

But Ms. Katz said that throughout August, Ms. Feinstein’s aides had checked back with Ms. Katz from time to time to see if Ms. Ford would go public. But Ms. Ford, fearing she would be attacked, wanted to remain private, and the senator respected her wishes, Ms. Katz said.

From the Post: Katz said she believes Feinstein honored Ford’s request to keep her allegation confidential, but “regrettably others did not.”

anitahillThe Year of the Woman. It’s worth noting that Feinstein was first elected in 1992, the “Year of the Woman” election following Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations during the historic Clarence Thomas Senate hearings.

In her Sunday statement, she explained the ethics of her decision not to surface Ford’s story herself: “It has always been Mrs. Ford’s decision whether to come forward publicly,” she said. “For any woman, sharing an experience involving sexual assault, particularly when it involves a politically connected man with influence, authority and power – is extraordinarily difficult.”

While Fox News and GOP senators may continue kvetching, we predict the condemnation of Democrats and even de Leon about the letter will end (Update. Okay, so we were half right: Feinstein’s Senate colleagues are now defending her, but de Leon is still on the attack, saying she screwed up by not finding unexplained ways and means “to devise a way to act on sensitive information …while maintaining appropriate confidentiality.”

All righty then: I hate this restaurant – the food’s bad and the portions are too small.

Here’s a Post story, published two days after our original post, summarizing the react to Difi’s actions to date.

Feinstein speaks. In the interview before the Ford story broke, DiFi discussed Kavanaugh and other political issues, as she:

–Pushed back against de Leon’s argument that she is too moderate to represent California in the Trump era, along with criticism that she apologized, instead of standing up for, anti-Kavanaugh protestors during the Judiciary Committee hearing: “You don’t do that in the Senate – you don’t turn it into a roughhouse.”

–Acknowledged that, “sure it hurt,” when the state Democratic Party executive board endorsed de Leon over her, but shrugged off suggestions that she is out of touch with its progressive wing: “We did pretty well in the primary,” in which she was the overwhelming winner in a crowded field, capturing 70 percent of Democratic votes, she said.

–Refused to answer whether Trump should be impeached, in contrast to de Leon, who has stated that impeachment should be pursued, even with Democrats in the congressional minority. “It’s for a future day, I’ll leave it at that,” she said, arguing that the Constitution is strong enough to withstand Trump: “Absolutely.”

kavanaugh–Defended as “very honorable people” Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Maine and Alaska, the two key, pro-choice Republicans whose votes are crucial to blocking Trump’s pick, while declining to speak on the record about her conversations with them: “It would be a very big thing for them to go against the party.”

–Agreed that Kavanaugh would be “a likely vote” to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, adding, in effect, that Kavanaugh tried to dupe the Judiciary Committee by calling the landmark ruling “settled law,” but stopping short of stating that it was “decided correctly.”

–Criticized Kavanaugh for evading questions probing his views on executive power and whether or not a President is exempt from criminal prosecution: “He wasn’t going to step away from the President in any of his answers.”

–Denounced the constant storm of “chaos and unpredictability” in the Trump White House — “My God, how would I know what he would do tomorrow or next week?” – but also professed her confidence in key Administration members to manage it, specifically Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (We note with alarm that the Defense secretary is reportedly on the outs with Trump and may soon be replaced however).

–Expressed disappointment in Republican congressional colleagues who “seem so afraid to cross” Trump, but said she will continue efforts to work with GOP members on issues on which she believes bipartisan solutions are still possible, citing current discussions on immigration legislation.

A transcript of the interview is posted online here. A version of this post also is being published by the Santa Barbara Independent and at Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts.

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