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Dianne Feinstein criticized for keeping Brett Kavanaugh assault claims under wraps

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s decision to bottle up incendiary claims about Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh until the 11th hour has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans saying it appears Democrats didn’t even believe the accuser they now want to testify to Congress.

Ms. Feinstein says she was trying to protect the confidentiality of Christine Blasey Ford, who has since come forward and publicly identified herself six weeks after she sent a letter to Ms. Feinstein.

But the California Democrat’s handling of the matter fed into Republicans’ suspicions that Democrats were up to something fishy, leaking the information just days before a key committee vote and too late for Judge Kavanaugh to defend himself at his weeklong hearing earlier this month.

Ms. Feinstein defended her handling of the matter, though her office said the senator would have dealt with it differently from the start had Ms. Ford not requested confidentiality in a July 30 letter to the senator detailing the accusations.

“Well, if I had it to do over again, and it hadn’t been brought to me as confidential — I think I’m not going to do any more confidential,” Ms. Feinstein said. “This was brought to me as confidential, and I maintained that … obviously all I’m saying is if somebody wants to tell me something that’s fine, but it’s my judgment what to do with it then.”

But nearly a year after the #MeToo movement swept Hollywood and Capitol Hill, the senator’s handling of the charge has angered Republicans and left Democrats rushing to say they actually accept Ms. Ford’s version of events, despite not acting initially.

“I believe her. Many, many, many Americans believe her,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Republicans, for their part, said Ms. Ford deserves to be heard — and said that’s why they were so stunned at Ms. Feinstein’s handling.

“It seems in bad faith to hold this information from Republicans and from the FBI for over a month and then to suggest at the final hour that the only path forward is delaying the confirmation to allow the FBI to investigate,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

According to The Washington Post, Ms. Ford first sent a tip to the paper’s tip line in early July and alerted Rep. Anna Eshoo. In her letter to Ms. Feinstein, Ms. Ford went into detail about her claim that, when she and Judge Kavanaugh were high school students at a party, the future Supreme Court nominee assaulted her and attempted to strip her clothes off while holding his hand over her mouth.

Debra Katz, an attorney for Ms. Ford, said that she had asked Ms. Feinstein to keep Ms. Ford’s letter and allegations confidential — and that the senator agreed — but that the decision ultimately was “taken away from her” once the story started to surface and members of the press started digging into Ms. Ford’s background.

“She knew … her allegations were going to be outed, and that, in fact, is what occurred, and as a result she decided to take control of this and tell this in her own voice,” Ms. Katz said on CNN.

Ms. Katz said Ms. Ford went to the senator because she thought she had information that had bearing on the fitness and character of Judge Kavanaugh.

Ms. Feinstein’s office said staff were in contact through August and made clear that Ms. Ford could come forward if she chose. The senator’s office said once Ms. Ford came forward, the senator no longer had to protect her identity “but remains committed to any woman’s right to choose the manner in how she wants to handle allegations of sexual assault or misconduct.”

Under pressure from fellow Democrats who heard about the letter, Ms. Feinstein finally briefed her party colleagues on the Judiciary Committee last week. She also said she sent the letter to the FBI. A source familiar with the nomination said the FBI didn’t investigate but forwarded the letter to the White House for the judge’s nomination file.

Ms. Feinstein is up for re-election in November against state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat who blasted Ms. Feinstein for sitting on the allegation for so long. “The woman in question asked for anonymity; she didn’t ask for inaction,” he tweeted.

Republicans were just as critical.

“What is puzzling to me is the Democrats, by not bringing this out earlier, after having had this information for more than six weeks, have managed to cast a cloud of doubt on both the professor and the judge,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, told The New York Times. “If they believed Professor Ford, why didn’t they surface this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it? And if they didn’t believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it? It is really not fair to either of them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democratic leaks to the media. “The chain of custody of this letter runs through the Democratic side of the judiciary committee,” he said.

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