WaPo: Say, Feinstein has a lot to answer for in this Kavanaugh debacle, huh?

Indeed she does, and it’s not just irate Republicans making the point. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan reports that Dianne Feinstein’s fellow Senate Democrats have begun grumbling about her handling of the allegation from Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh after it blew up this week. They may not have the same reasons as Republicans, though:

Feinstein has been a lightning rod for loud criticism from President Trump and quieter frustration from some fellow Democrats after she disclosed she received a letter in July from the woman that she did not share with Senate colleagues and federal law enforcement until last week.

The episode has put the 85-year-old senator from California, who is seeking a sixth term in Nov­ember, in the middle of a fast-moving and explosive cultural, political and social firestorm charged by forces of the #MeToo movement and Trump’s divisive presidency. …

Privately, some Democratic senators wished that Feinstein had come to them sooner with the allegation, according to a Democrat with direct knowledge of internal Senate dynamics. The Democrat spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

So why didn’t Feinstein share the information with fellow Democrats? That’s less clear in Sullivan’s report, but her desire to keep Republicans from discovering it comes through loud and clear. Rather than refer this to the FBI, as Feinstein now demands, she initially wanted to hire an independent investigator to check out Ford’s story. That plan ended when it became clear it would tip off the GOP:

“We were looking for a way to get it investigated by an outside investigator,” she told reporters. Her spokesman, Tom Mentzer, said her staff spoke with the Ethics Committee about whether the Judiciary Committee could hire an independent, outside counsel to assist an unnamed individual.

Officials advised the aides that the Senate Rules Committee would have to approve such a request, Mentzer said, which would have meant alerting leading Republican senators and therefore running afoul of Ford’s request to remain confidential.

Well, that’s one theory, but let’s think it through. Ford’s story had few details but named a couple of other people — Mark Judge as a co-assailant, and apparently Patrick “PJ” Smyth as a witness, along with another so-far-unknown witness. How long would Ford’s anonymity have lasted when private investigators started knocking on their doors? In order to vet the story, they would have had to reveal the identity of the accuser in order to establish the basis for the allegation, as in “Did Kavanaugh ever attend a party with Christine Blasey?” Judge and Smyth would have immediately told Kavanaugh and his team of the issue, if not gone public with it, and the GOP would have found out in short order. (Outside counsel and investigators have no authority to tell people to keep their investigation quiet.)

The effort wouldn’t have been designed to keep Ford’s name from getting out. It was intended to keep the allegation itself quiet for as long as possible, which is likely the reason that Feinstein kept it from her fellow Democrats, too. And she was correct to do so, because they leaked it to the press in order to force the issue last week. Whether she did so because she wasn’t buying Ford’s story or because she was timing a political hit is something only Feinstein can answer, but it’s at least clear that she’s responsible for hiding it rather than handling it properly.

This is why Feinstein is the true author of the Kavanaugh debacle. The proper action to take after receiving the allegation would have been to inform the committee chair of the development, especially if judicial hygiene was the priority. Chuck Grassley could have developed a process before the hearing to probe the allegation, bringing in outside counsel and perhaps engaging local law enforcement to help out.

But more importantly, it would have been the proper action to take, rather than hiding material information about a nominee from the rest of the committee assigned to vet him. Whatever Feinstein’s motivations might have been, she buried the allegation for almost two months. Her fellow Senate Democrats might feel frustrated that they didn’t get let in on the secret, but it shouldn’t have been a secret at all to the Judiciary Committee members of either party. Feinstein single-handedly obstructed the committee’s ability to do its job properly, and in doing so set up a situation in which both the accuser and accused have been damaged, and the credibility of the process completely shredded.

Dianne Feinstein has many apologies to make, and the ones to her fellow Senate Democrats are hardly near the top of that list.

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