Late in the hearing today there was an exchange involving Sens. Cruz, Cornyn, and Feinstein over who leaked Christine Blasey Ford’s letter to the media. It began with Sen. Cruz accusing Democrats of leaking the letter to the media. “Dr. Ford told this committee that the only people to whom she gave her letter were her attorneys, the ranking member, and her Member of Congress,” Cruz said. He continued, “And she stated that she and her attorneys did not release the letter which means the only people that could have released that letter were either the ranking member and her staff or the Democratic Member of Congress…That is not a fair process.”
At that point, Sen. Feinstein asked for time to respond. She again claimed she kept the letter private as Dr. Ford had asked. “I held it confidential until she decided that she would come forward,” Feinstein said.
Next, Sen. Cornyn asked permission (from Grassley) to ask Feinstein a question. “I believe what you just said,” Cornyn said, adding, “Can you tell us that your staff did not leak it?”
Feinstein replied that she didn’t believe her staff would leak it but said she hadn’t asked them. A member of her staff leaned forward and whispered something to her and Feinstein then said, “The answer is no.” “Jennifer reminds me I’ve asked her before about it and that’s true,” Feinstein said, referencing the staffer behind her.
So who did leak the letter? Well, the process of how it came out wasn’t that clear cut. The first mention of the letter appeared at the Intercept on Sep. 12:
Different sources provided different accounts of the contents of the letter, and some of the sources said they themselves had heard different versions, but the one consistent theme was that it describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school. Kept hidden, the letter is beginning to take on a life of its own.
Eshoo passed the letter to her fellow Californian, Feinstein. Word began leaking out on the Hill about it, and Feinstein was approached by Democrats on the committee, but she rebuffed them, Democratic sources said. Feinstein’s fellow senators want their own opportunity to gauge whether or not the letter should be made public, rather than leaving it to Feinstein to make that call unilaterally. The sources were not authorized to speak on the record, and said that no senators on the committee, other than Feinstein, have so far been able to view the letter.
Ryan Grim the author of that piece seems to have spoken to Eshoo’s office and probably to Democrats who were trying to get a look at the letter but who hadn’t seen it yet. This afternoon, Grim clarified on Twitter that his awareness of the letter did not come from Feinstein or her staff:
Nor did she or her staff leak the existence of the letter to The Intercept. After our story, she turned it over to the FBI, which placed it in his background file, which meant that it became widely available and soon after it was leaked to CNN
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) September 27, 2018
So Feinstein’s office may not have leaked the initial word of the letter but it almost certainly came from Democrats, either in Eshoo’s office or on the committee. Word of the letter that apparently prompted Feinstein to turn it over to the FBI which then meant the entire committee would have access to it. By the next day, reports were circulating offering details about the contents of the letter. From the NY Times:
Two officials familiar with the matter say the incident involved possible sexual misconduct between Judge Kavanaugh and a woman when they were both in high school. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Again, we can guess who leaked the additional details but my money is on Democrats who wanted this story out to derail the nomination. With word of the letter circulating, reporters were camping out at Dr. Ford’s house. Finally, on Sep. 16, Dr. Ford came forward and either that day or the next, CNN published the letter itself.
To sum this up, someone leaked word of the letter to the far-left site The Intercept and that set in motion a chain of events which resulted in the details of the letter appearing in print around the world the very next day and finally being printed in full a few days later. The initial leaks may not have come from Feinstein’s office, but they likely came from the office of one of her colleagues on the Democratic side who’d heard rumors about it. Where did those rumors come from? I don’t know but I found this report published by Buzzfeed on Sep. 13th interesting:
The lawyer believed to be representing the woman was seen leaving Capitol Hill Wednesday evening shortly after the Intercept story dropped and just as Judiciary Committee Democrats were huddling in the Senate lobby. The lawyer, Debra Katz, has not confirmed that she is representing the woman. She also declined to comment Wednesday, saying, “There’s nothing to say.”
Katz didn’t talk to the media apparently, but she might have spread the word to Democratic Senators, some of whom may have been leaking news about the letter to media outlets.
Here’s the video of the exchange between Cruz, Cornyn, and Feinstein: