They leaked Ford’s months-old accusation at the eleventh hour to derail a likely confirmation, now they’re dropping this at 11:59 because they fear the FBI report they were clamoring for won’t help their cause.

Or have they already seen the FBI report and this is their bid to change the subject?

In any case, WaPo’s reporter is excited:

It’s convenient that they won’t say which subject, sexual misconduct or alcohol abuse, the previous red flag is related to. One is obviously more serious than the other. Kavanaugh’s nomination wouldn’t even be jeopardized by a prior alcohol problem if one existed, assuming he had been treated for it.

But that’s the point of this leak, right? To get us to speculate, assume the worst, and make that another reason not to support him. It’s the same message Cory Booker was pushing last night, not coincidentally. It doesn’t matter if he’s guilty or innocent of sexual assault or if he’s a drunk or not. The suspicion has been raised. Why take a chance?

Here’s the passage from the Democrats’ joint letter to Grassley:

What a brilliant way to smear him. Not only can’t they say what turned up in Kavanaugh’s previous background checks, they won’t even narrow the possibilities. It could be as simple as one friend saying “I’ve seen Brett totally blitzed at more than one wedding” and Democrats might vaguely plausibly shoehorn that into the category of “concerns about alcohol abuse.”

Hoping all the while, of course, that people will take from their accusation the opposite meaning, that something very grave and sex-related was raised at some point in the past.

Which would be next to impossible. Remember, this guy has held jobs for Ken Starr, the Bush White House, and a seat on the country’s most prestigious circuit court. Not only has he been through a half-dozen background checks, Democrats have had strong political incentives to take him out along the way. It’s been clear for years that he might end up as a Supreme Court nominee; they actually did successfully block his nomination to the D.C. Circuit for a few years during Bush’s presidency. Whatever turned up in one of his previous background checks obviously wasn’t serious enough to keep him off the bench or to disqualify him for any of the other intensely scrutinized positions in government that he’s already held.

In fact, this new allegation is apt to return us to the still-unanswered question that’s been asked repeatedly of Feinstein about the Ford matter. If she had Ford’s letter since July, why was the subject never once broached with the nominee, even privately? They could have raised it in closed session during his confirmation hearing or during a meeting. Or on the phone. Has the mysterious red flag on Kavanaugh’s old background checks ever even been mentioned to him?

Or is it so trivial that Democrats can’t bring themselves to mention it either, fearing they’d be ridiculed for doing so? Better to insinuate in their letter than to confront him plainly.

Do note: Not every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee signed the letter. Most did, but Chris Coons and Amy Klobuchar are conspicuously missing. Did they miss the deadline to sign before the letter was sent or did they conclude that their colleagues are playing dirty pool here? Coons has spent a lot of time this week by Jeff Flake’s side, on a little comity tour of the media. Maybe this smear was a bridge too far for him under the circumstances.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s Joe Manchin hinting which way he’s leaning by noting that he’ll also be considering what sort of adult — husband, father, judge — Kavanaugh has been in choosing whether to confirm him. That suggests a yes vote, which makes sense: Manchin’s comfortably ahead in his Senate race but he’s surely aware of what’s happened to Heidi Heitkamp’s chances in North Dakota ever since the war over Kavanaugh broke out. No doubt he’d like to vote yes, to protect his right flank. But at the end of the day, he’ll never take a meaningful vote against his party. He’s a lock to support the nominee if and only if his vote doesn’t matter, i.e. if Kavanaugh already has 50 votes from Republicans, ensuring confirmation. If Collins and Murkowski walk, it’s unimaginable that Manchin would cross the aisle to save the nomination. I don’t know why reporters even bother quizzing him about it.