What we know about the potentially explosive letter Sen. Feinstein sent to the FBI about Brett Kavanaugh

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It seems to be about sexual misconduct, back when the Supreme Court nominee was in high school.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has told the FBI something about Brett Kavanaugh.

But she isn’t saying what. Feinstein put out a cryptic statement Thursday. “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” she said. “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.”

The issue seems to be related to sexual misconduct. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and HuffPost’s Igor Bobic, Amanda Terkel, Jennifer Bendery, Paul Blumenthal, and Ashley Feinberg reported Feinstein had received a letter from a California constituent about an incident that took place between Kavanaugh and a woman while the 53-year-old nominee was in high school. The New York Times’s Catie Edmondson and Nicholas Fandos, citing two officials familiar with the matter, said it was related to “possible sexual misconduct.”

The White House argued that this was simply a last-ditch Democratic attempt to stymie Kavanaugh’s nomination. “Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator 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 in a statement.

The FBI says it has added the letter to Kavanaugh’s file. “Upon receipt of the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process,” an FBI spokesperson said.

A representative for Committee Chair Chuck Grassley told CNBC that the panel currently intends to move forward with Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, which includes a committee vote set to take place next Thursday, September 20. “There’s no plan to change the committee’s consideration of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” the spokesperson noted.

Feinstein’s statement is the latest twist in an increasingly bitter fight over many aspects of Kavanaugh’s record and the handling of his confirmation process. Democrats have argued that Republicans’ efforts to obscure documents from Kavanaugh’s records have prevented them from fully vetting his experience on issues like Bush-era detainee policy and affirmative action. And they’ve questioned Kavanaugh aggressively about whether he knew about sexual misconduct allegations against retired federal judge Alex Kozinski, whom he clerked for.

But many details are still unclear, including the crucial question of what Kavanaugh is accused of in the constituent’s letter — if he’s accused of anything at all.

What we know

So far, there are more questions than answers about what the letter is about. The letter itself is a secondhand account of an incident that hasn’t been described to reporters. Feinstein isn’t saying much: The Intercept reports that the letter had been causing a stir on Capitol Hill because she had refused to disclose it even to fellow Senate Democrats.

The letter was from someone affiliated with Stanford University who had the incident involving Kavanaugh described to them, according to the Intercept. The letter was first sent to Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents a major swath of the Bay Area including the area where Stanford is located. Eshoo shared it with Feinstein.

Feinstein’s office declined to provide any additional comment on the letter, and Eshoo’s office said it has a confidentiality policy when it comes to casework involving constituents.

The woman involved might have retained a lawyer, but that hasn’t been confirmed: The Intercept is reporting that Debra Katz, a DC-based civil rights attorney who had previously represented one of the women who brought abuse allegations against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is representing her.

Katz was spotted leaving Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening, according to BuzzFeed, though she did not confirm her involvement when asked.

Kavanaugh has said there should be no tolerance for sexual harassment

Sexual harassment was brought up several times during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. He emphasized that sexual harassment should not be tolerated and made his promotion of female clerks a major cornerstone of his testimony.

“[Sexual harassment is a] broad national problem that needs to be addressed, including in the judiciary,” Kavanaugh said during the confirmation hearing.

As part of the panel, he was questioned repeatedly about his knowledge of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kozinski, whom he had previously clerked under.

Kozinski retired from his judgeship in December 2017 after multiple former employees said he showed them pornography, touched them inappropriately, or made inappropriate sexual comments to them. At least 15 women have made sexual misconduct allegations against Kozinski, which span decades.

Kavanaugh emphasized that he did not witness any sexual misconduct during his time working with Kozinski and said he has no reason not to believe the women who’ve come forward.

“It was a gut punch for me. It was a gut punch for the judiciary. I was shocked,” Kavanaugh said regarding his reaction to learning of the Kozinski allegations. “Disappointed, angry, swirl of emotions. No woman should be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Kavanaugh, for now, is on course for a confirmation vote in the coming weeks. Grassley told BuzzFeed on Thursday that he had not personally seen the constituent letter and only knew of its existence via media reports that had been published.

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