Feinstein turns dirt on Kavanaugh over to investigators

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, accompanied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member, right, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup meeting on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she has notified federal investigators about information she received — and won’t disclose publicly — concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The California Democrat said in a statement Thursday that she “received information from an individual concerning the nomination.” She said the person “strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision.”

The FBI confirmed that it received the information Wednesday evening and included it in Kavanaugh’s background file, which is maintained as part of his nomination. The agency said that is its standard process.

A Senate Democratic aide and another person familiar with the matter said it referred to an incident that occurred while Kavanaugh was high-school age. The two spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter.

The details of the alleged incident and the identity of the person who provided the information were unclear.

The White House called Feinstein’s move an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

The Judiciary Committee, which has finished confirmation hearings for Kavanagh, is scheduled to vote next Thursday on whether to recommend that he be confirmed by the full Senate.

Feinstein’s statement that she has “referred the matter to federal investigative authorities” jolted Capitol Hill and threatened to disrupt what has been a steady path toward confirmation for Kavanaugh by Republicans eager to see the conservative judge on the court.

Feinstein has held the letter close. Democratic senators on the panel met privately Wednesday evening and discussed the information, according to Senate aides who were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some senators, including the No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, learned about the information for the first time at the meeting, according to one of the aides.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., declined to confirm reports that the congresswoman had forwarded a letter containing the allegations to Feinstein. She said her office has a confidentiality policy regarding casework for constituents.

A White House spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said the FBI has vetted Kavanaugh “thoroughly and repeatedly” during his career in government and the judiciary.

She said Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony and publicly addressed more than 2,000 questions. “Not until the eve of his confirmation has Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” she said.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican and a member of the committee, was also skeptical.

“Let me get this straight: this is (sic) statement about secret letter regarding a secret matter and an unidentified person. Right,” he tweeted.

Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was unaware of the information until it was made public, according to a GOP committee aide. Kavanaugh has undergone six federal background checks over time in government, including one most recently for the nomination, the aide said.

The new information on Kavanaugh was included Thursday in his confidential background file at the committee and is now available for senators to review, the aide said.

Democrats don’t have the votes to block Kavanaugh’s nomination if Republicans are unified, but they are fighting it and decrying the process that Republicans used to compile his government records for review.

At the committee Thursday, Republicans brushed aside a flurry of Democratic attempts to delay the consideration of Kavanaugh or subpoena more documents, sticking with a schedule that could see him confirmed by Oct. 1, when the new court session begins.

Feinstein had sought a subpoena for documents from Kavanaugh’s time as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary. She said senators “should be able to see this record” and wondered, “What in Judge Kavanaugh’s records are Republicans hiding?”

The Republicans have declined to pursue Kavanaugh’s staff secretary documents, saying it would be too cumbersome. They rejected Feinstein’s motion and several others, including motions to subpoena documents and witnesses and a motion to adjourn.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, set the panel’s vote on Kavanaugh for Sept. 20.

New documents released ahead of Thursday’s meeting included Kavanaugh’s 263-page written response to questions from senators, along with 28 files from the judge’s work in the Bush White House that had been available to senators only on a “committee confidential basis.” Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey made the Bush documents public.

The documents released by Booker show Kavanaugh’s involvement in Bush’s nomination of Charles Pickering to an appellate court in the South as Pickering faced questions about his views on race relations. Kavanaugh had indicated in 2006 testimony that he was not substantially involved in the nomination.

In releasing a new batch of committee confidential documents about Kavanaugh, Booker was repeating a tactic that could prompt a review from the Senate Ethics Committee.

Booker’s GOP colleagues and outside groups are criticizing him for releasing the documents. Last week, he released some documents that were later made public by the committee, but also others that weren’t. Wednesday’s disclosure brings the total to 75.

The conservative group Judicial Watch delivered a letter Wednesday to the Senate Ethics Committee seeking an investigation. It says Booker violated Senate rules against disclosing confidential documents and could face Senate expulsion.

Booker has welcomed the fight. He says the documents about Kavanaugh’s work “raise more serious and concerning questions” about his honesty during his testimony before the committee.

At issue has been the unprecedented process the Senate Judiciary Committee used for gathering documents on Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on the court.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Zeke Miller and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Rowdy Kavanaugh fight defined Democrats

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., confer before questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democrats don’t have the votes to block Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But that didn’t stop them from putting up a rowdy, leave-nothing-on-the-table fight during four days of Senate confirmation hearings that marked a new stage in the party’s resistance to President Donald Trump.

From the moment that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman gaveled in the first session, the proceedings were tumultuous, disrupted first by Democratic senators objecting to the rules and then by protesters shouting “Sham president, sham vote” and other chants.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, an 84-year-old Iowa Republican, later said it was like nothing he had ever experienced during 15 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

The bedlam is unlikely to change any votes in the Senate. The mathematic march toward Kavanaugh’s confirmation at month’s end remains the same in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 edge. Still, the battle may have changed the Democrats, who are being transformed by a new generation of politicians spoiling for a fight with Trump, even if it creates political challenges for some Democratic candidates in the November election.

“Sometimes you just have to make a stand,” said Brian Fallon, a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Senate’s top Democrat, New York’s Chuck Schumer. Fallon’s organization, Demand Justice, is leading the opposition to Kavanaugh.

Fallon compared the decision on the court nominee to big votes of the past such as the Iraq War authorization that end up defining lawmakers’ careers.

“This vote is not going to age well,” Fallon said. He is holding out hope that not only will Democrats reject Kavanaugh, but that two pivotal Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, will join in to help stop the confirmation.

“Democrats should fight like hell,” he said, “even if it’s not going to sway Susan Collins.”

Republicans have been eager to capitalize on the political “circus,” as they called the hearing, particularly as potential 2020 presidential hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey took turns aggressively questioning Kavanaugh in what many saw as a prelude to presidential primary campaigns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., portrayed the Democratic Party as dominated by “unhinged” protesters and aligned with liberals calling to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, bemoaned the “mob rule” at the hearings.

Trump took on his potential 2020 rivals directly. During campaign stops for GOP candidates challenging Senate Democrats this fall in Montana and North Dakota, states where Trump remains popular, he ridiculed Democrats as “making fools out of themselves.”

“The way they’re screaming and shouting, it’s a disgrace to our country actually,” Trump said Friday during a fundraiser in Fargo, North Dakota, for the GOP opponent to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “I’ll be running against them and I look so forward to it.”

With the midterms less than two months away, Kavanaugh’s nomination carries political risks for both parties as they potentially alienate the large swath of independent voters who have big say in elections.

“Independents are looking for things to work,” said David Winston, a Republican pollster. But he said the showy, disruptive display at the Kavanaugh hearing “reinforces their concerns of people not focusing on the challenges the country faces.”

Democratic senators running for re-election in states where Trump is popular have the most to lose from the party’s Supreme Court fight.

Sens. Joe Donnelly in Indiana or Claire McCaskill in Missouri may benefit from a court battle that energizes the Democratic base. They need heavy voter turnout in metro Indianapolis and Kansas City, Democratic strongholds, if they have any hope of carrying otherwise red states that Trump won in 2016.

Yet the court fight might be unhelpful as some Democrats, including Heitkamp in North Dakota and Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, try to appeal to the moderate Republicans and independents they need to win over.

“It’s probably the last thing that Democrats running for re-election in red states want to be talking about,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Before the hearings began, Schumer gathered Democrats for a weekend conference call to plot strategy. They debated options, Schumer said, but decided on a strategy of staying in the room for questions, protest and disruption.

At a time when Democrats are churning as a party, they’re also awakening to the political potency of judicial nominees, a longtime GOP priority.

Gone are the niceties and overtures of an earlier era, when senators deferred to a president’s prerogative to put in place a qualified nominee of the commander in chief’s choosing.

Trump is a different kind of president, they say, and the Senate a changed institution after President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, was denied a hearing or vote.

Schumer, on Friday, seemed pleased with the result of the hard-edged approach. He said in a statement that Democrats “were able to shine a bright light — for the American people and Republican Senators to see — on Judge Kavanaugh’s troubling views on women’s rights, presidential power, and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

“This was a good week.”

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved