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New Kavanaugh Disclosure Shows Little Sign of Impeding His Nomination

New Kavanaugh Disclosure Shows Little Sign of Impeding His Nomination

WASHINGTON — Sudden new revelations in Supreme Court confirmation fights are not new. Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas surfaced after his initial hearings had concluded. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s first nominee to the court, faced claims that he had plagiarized parts of his book just as his nomination headed…


WASHINGTON — Sudden new revelations in Supreme Court confirmation fights are not new. Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas surfaced after his initial hearings had concluded. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s first nominee to the court, faced claims that he had plagiarized parts of his book just as his nomination headed toward a Senate floor vote.

Now the bitter and extremely contentious Senate fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh has taken its own post-hearing turn with the disclosure that a top Democrat had for weeks possessed a letter accusing the nominee of sexual misconduct while he was in high school. The development, coming a week before the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination, did not yet appear to be impeding Judge Kavanaugh’s steady progress toward assuming a seat on the court this fall.

Even after new details about the accusation became public on Friday, the office of Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is the chairman of the panel, said the committee vote would proceed as scheduled. In a statement, the committee noted that no similar allegations had ever arisen during six F.B.I. background investigations from 1993 to 2018, and that the “anonymous allegations are reportedly from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school time roughly 35 years ago.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, first confirmed the existence of the letter on Thursday, just hours after the Republican-controlled panel had shut down multiple attempts by Democrats to extend the review of Judge Kavanaugh over separate issues related to his testimony and his time in the White House as an aide to President George W. Bush.

Privately, Republicans expressed puzzlement over the handling of the letter by Ms. Feinstein, who said her decision-making had been driven by the accuser’s demand for anonymity and unwillingness to press the issue. Republicans noted that Ms. Feinstein could have asked Judge Kavanaugh, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, about it privately during her own meeting with him or during a closed session of the confirmation hearing. Most committee Democrats did not learn about the letter from the woman, dated in July, until Wednesday night. A decision was made to keep it confidential and turn it over to the F.B.I.

The F.B.I. then added it to Judge Kavanaugh’s background file and returned it to the offices of the Judiciary Committee, where senators can review it if they like. One top Senate official said that Judge Kavanaugh, who maintained his composure during two days of testimony in which his honesty and integrity were repeatedly challenged, was angry over the disclosure of the accusation. He has two young daughters, and his coaching of a girls’ basketball team was proudly mentioned throughout the hearing.

Through a statement from the White House on Friday, he categorically denied that any such episode took place. The woman said Judge Kavanaugh and another male teenager at a party had locked her in a bedroom with an intent to assault her. The letter describes Judge Kavanaugh forcing himself on the woman, who was also a teenager at the time, and holding his hand over her mouth. The two young men were drunk, and she was able to flee the room, according to her account.

The White House and conservative advocacy groups called the disclosure a desperate, last-minute smear by Democrats frustrated at their inability to thwart the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. While some liberal advocacy groups stepped up their attacks on Judge Kavanaugh, Senate Democrats were not demanding additional hearings to explore the accusation — a sort of Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas redux.

And Kavanaugh opponents said they did not anticipate that the issue would move to the forefront unless the woman agreed to cooperate. Members of both parties said the situation was complicated by the fact that it was alleged to have occurred when all involved were in high school. By contrast, the accusations against Justice Thomas concerned adult behavior during his time as a supervisor at federal agencies.

But Democrats definitely have issues that they would like to explore further about Judge Kavanaugh. On Thursday, they sought to subpoena people and documents related to events from his White House years about which they believe he was not honest. Committee Republicans summarily blocked those efforts.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, tried to get the committee to seek testimony from former Republican Senate aides who were involved in an effort to improperly obtain thousands of private Democratic documents from Judiciary Committee computers between 2001 and 2003 — another period of intense partisanship over judicial nominees.

Documents released by the committee showed that Judge Kavanaugh, then a White House lawyer involved in nomination issues, exchanged information with Manuel Miranda, a Senate aide who had obtained and circulated some of the information.

Judge Kavanaugh told the panel he had no idea that any of the information had been inappropriately obtained — an assertion that was met with skepticism by Senate Democrats. In particular, his claim that bipartisan exchanges about nomination strategy were common and the “coin of the realm” in judicial fights provoked a backlash from former senior Democratic staff members on the committee. They said that was far from the case during the heated clashes over nominees in the early years of the Bush administration.

“That is simply not accurate when it came to judicial nomination fights,” said Kristine Lucius, a former counsel to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and a senior member of the committee. “There was nothing normal about this episode.”

The computer breach — and the potential advantage to the Bush administration at the time — is particularly raw with some Democrats on the panel. Judge Kavanaugh’s initial confirmation hearing for the appeals court came in April 2004, about a month after the release of a Senate investigation into the incident. Democrats believe that Judge Kavanaugh might not have survived that review if the documents now available were seen then.

Both Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch survived volatile accusations about their conduct as the confirmation process entered the later stages and were ultimately placed on the Supreme Court. Unless more accusations pile up against Judge Kavanaugh, he seems likely to join them soon.

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