WASHINGTON (AP) — Both Republican and Democratic senators questioned a colleague’s handling of a recently revealed anonymous allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and said they would pursue information about the decades-old claim when they return to the Capitol this week.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, which became public late last week, though Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California had been in possession of an anonymous letter containing the accusation since July. The matter was not raised when Kavanaugh, currently a federal appeals court judge, sat through hours of public questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee members in early September.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said the allegation was unlikely to derail Kavanaugh’s quest for a seat on the nation’s highest court, but added that lawmakers still had time to investigate when they return to Washington this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a Thursday vote on the nomination.
The New Yorker magazine reported last week that the alleged incident took place at a party when Kavanaugh, 53, attended a private high school in Maryland. The woman making the allegation attended a nearby high school.
The New Yorker did not name the woman, and Feinstein has said the woman does not want to come forward or press the matter further.
The Associated Press has not confirmed The New Yorker’s account.
“It’s a very serious allegation. But at this point it’s an anonymous letter,” Jones said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union. “You’re not going to be able to really test it unless somebody comes forward with more information.”
He said the allegation should at least have been discussed behind closed doors.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a Judiciary committee member, also questioned why the matter wasn’t raised during sessions the committee held with Kavanaugh.
“So when we get back to Washington this week, we’ll take a look at it, but it really raises a question in my mind about if … this was material to the confirmation process, why on earth over the past four to six weeks hasn’t it been discussed among the committee members?” Tillis said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“We understand that the person who wrote the letter is not willing to come forward,” he said. “So we have a confidential witness not willing to sit down at least in a closed setting, that’s problematic to me. … Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations, and I put some weight on that.”
In a statement released by the White House last week, Kavanaugh said: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Feinstein said she had notified federal investigators about information she had received on Kavanaugh, and the White House, in turn, accused her of mounting an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.” The FBI confirmed it has included the information in the letter in Kavanaugh’s background file, which all senators can read.
Sixty-five women who knew Kavanagh in high school defended him in another letter, circulated by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, as someone who “always treated women with decency and respect.”
Tillis and fellow Republican committee member Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana predicted the panel would vote Thursday to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Kavanaugh would be confirmed in time to be seated when the Supreme Court opens its fall term on Oct. 1.
Kennedy predicted a straight party-line vote. Eleven Republicans and 10 Democrats are on the committee.
Former independent counsel Ken Starr, who employed Kavanaugh during the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, also questioned how the allegation was handled.
“I just think it’s too late for there to be any serious consideration at this stage,” he said on “State of the Union.”
Kavanaugh’s nomination has divided the Senate. Most Democrats oppose him and most Republicans support him, but the new information could complicate the process, especially as key Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are under enormous pressure from outside groups seeking to sway their votes on grounds that a Justice Kavanaugh might vote to undercut the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the U.S. Collins and Murkowski have not yet said how they will vote.
Kennedy blasted the overall confirmation process, citing repeated efforts by committee Democrats to delay the hearing, the arrests of scores of protesters and now the anonymous allegation.
“So far it’s pretty much been an intergalactic freak show,” Kennedy told “Fox News Sunday.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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