President Trump and Democratic state Sen. Kevin de León agree on one thing: They’re both convinced California Sen. Dianne Feinstein made a mistake when she delayed for weeks the release of a letter accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape.
Trump joined a chorus of Republicans on Tuesday in criticizing Feinstein for the timing of the release of a letter from Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University psychology professor who said she was assaulted by a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh during a party when they were in high school during the early 1980s.
It’s a charge the federal appeals court judge has vehemently denied.
“It is frankly a terrible thing that this information wasn’t given to us a long time ago, months ago when (Feinstein) got it,” Trump said at the White House. Democrats “could’ve done that instead of waiting until everything was finished and then all of a sudden spring it.”
Although his reasoning was very different, de León’s complaint was much the same.
“What we have here is a failure of leadership,” said de León, who is challenging Feinstein in the November election. People need to know Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, waited to hand over the “disqualifying document” to the FBI, and “pantomimed her way through (the confirmation) hearings without a single question about the content of Kavanaugh’s character,” the Los Angeles Democrat said.
Feinstein said she had no choice but to keep the letter secret after receiving it in late July because Ford asked her to keep her name confidential.
“It has always been Mrs. Ford’s decision whether to come forward publicly,” Feinstein said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
When Feinstein finally gave copies of the letter to Judiciary Committee Democrats and the FBI last week, it ignited a firestorm of speculation that didn’t end until Ford outed herself Sunday in an interview with the Washington Post.
Despite Feinstein’s claim that she was bound by her confidentiality agreement, there were steps the senator could have taken to alert her colleagues earlier to at least some of the allegations in Ford’s letter, said Jessica Levinson, a political ethics expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“The first question was whether there was a way to protect Professor Ford and still take the allegations seriously,” she said. Feinstein “could have earlier raised it in general terms with her colleagues and told them this was out there. She also could have done what she did later and turned (the letter) over to the FBI.”
What Feinstein couldn’t have done, though, “is say publicly that ‘on this day, in this place and at this high school party,’” a woman has accused Kavanaugh of attacking her, since it would have made Ford too easy to identify, Levinson said.
It was a tough call for Feinstein, said Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy group.
“We believe absolutely that a survivor has the right to decide … what to tell us and what not to tell us,” she said. “But we feel super strongly that (Feinstein) hasn’t been doing everything she could to keep an accused sexual predator from getting on the Supreme Court. There may have been other paths for her to take.”
Trump also suggested that Feinstein should have questioned Kavanaugh about the incident when she spoke with the nominee in private before the confirmation hearings.
Levinson raised the same question.
In a private conversation with Kavanaugh, Feinstein “wouldn’t have to give a date, but only describe the incident generally and ask him if something like this took place, ‘even when you were a minor,’” Levinson said.
Trump and other Republicans have charged that Feinstein and the Democrats purposely held off releasing Ford’s accusations to delay or derail Kavanaugh’s expected confirmation at the last minute.
“Dianne Feinstein may have been acting in good faith, but I hope she will answer about what happened in more recent days,” said Hadley Heath Manning, policy director for the conservative-leaning Independent Women’s Forum. “This shouldn’t be a partisan fight … but the accusations and timeline look very political, and that’s a shame.”
Feinstein has also taken some hits from fellow Democrats, with some reportedly complaining that the delay gave Republicans a chance to paint the charges as political.
But as Republicans have ramped up their attacks on Feinstein, Democrats have rallied behind the senator.
Rep. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough, who sponsored the Congressional Accountability Reform Act last year that sought to crack down on sexual harassment in Congress, defended both Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo, the Palo Alto Democrat who originally received the letter from Ford and passed it along to Feinstein.
Speier recalled that she was in a similar position in November when she testified before the House Administration Committee about harassment issues. She told the panel that she knew of two members of Congress who had sexually harassed staffers. But she refused to divulge their names.
“I was protecting the identities of the victims,” she said.
Feinstein’s actions were also backed by Debra Katz, Ford’s attorney, who said in a CNN interview that the senator had played by the rules Ford set.
Ford “made the request that Sen. Feinstein treat her allegations confidentially and Sen. Feinstein agreed to do so,” Katz said. The senator’s staff “was eager for her to come forward,” but left the decision up to Ford.
That decision “was taken away from her as the allegations leaked,” Katz said.