The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Wait, That Allegation Sat on Dianne Feinstein’s Desk Since Late July?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Senator Dianne Feinstein promises a vague bombshell and Ronan Farrow fills in the details; Mr. Nanny State himself is allegedly running for president; and Democrats say they expect to see another old, familiar face return to the campaign trail in 2020.

The FBI Tip Line Has to Deal with a Lot of Cranks

Yesterday afternoon, California senator Dianne Feinstein said she referred unspecified information about Brett Kavanaugh to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but refused to offer any specifics.

By Thursday night, reports suggested the information was wildly vague.

A source who claimed to have been briefed on the contents of the letter said it described an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman that took place when both were 17 years old and at a party. According to the source, Kavanaugh and a male friend had locked her in a room against her will, making her feel threatened, but she was able to get out of the room. The Guardian has not verified the apparent claims in the letter. It is not yet clear who wrote it.

Kavanaugh was 17 years old in 1982. Quick, call Agents Mulder, Scully, Cooper, Booth, Dunham, Terranova, and Erskine! Get all the forensics teams out to that party house! Alert the U.S. attorney! Ready the hostage-rescue teams! Alert Quantico!

By the middle of Friday morning, Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker added some details that made it sound much more serious.

The allegation dates back to the early nineteen-eighties, when Kavanaugh was a high-school student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the woman attended a nearby high school. In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her. She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

In a statement, Kavanaugh said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Kavanaugh’s classmate said of the woman’s allegation, “I have no recollection of that.”

The woman declined a request for an interview with The New Yorker.

The FBI responded as one would expect: “The bureau does not plan to launch a criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter — a probe that would normally be handled by local authorities if it were within the statute of limitations.”

We have an allegation of a very serious crime by an accuser who doesn’t want to go public, with no corroborating witnesses or evidence.

Other unidentified sources characterized the letter’s content to the New York Times on Thursday as an allegation of “possible sexual misconduct.” Assuming Farrow’s description is true, the sources of The Guardian are seriously misleading about the contents of the letter. (Of course, no news organization has provided the public with a copy of the letter.) While it’s conceivable that the letter mentions both, it doesn’t make sense that one source would only describe one part of the allegation while the other source only described another part. It is more plausible that either The Guardian’s sources describing a “locked in a room” scenario or the Times sources describing “sexual misconduct” are lying.

If the letter is ever released, and any of these characterizations were inaccurate, will any news organization reveal its sources for giving them wrong, or at best extremely misleading information?

The White House Is Understandably Outraged

Farrow’s article mentions that Feinstein has had the letter since “late July.” And she issues a vague press release about it days before the committee’s vote?

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. “Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

Every Supreme Court nomination brings some antics and political stunts, but the Democrats have really turned it up to eleven with Kavanaugh. The constant interrupting protesters throughout the confirmation hearing, Cory Booker’s “I am Spartacus” routine, Kamala Harris’s blatant dishonesty about Kavanaugh’s positions and writing, the implausible “Kavanaugh refused to shake my hand” stunt from the father of a Parkland-shooting victim, and now this last-minute evidence-free vague accusation. Even by the standards of shameless political stunts and grandstanding, this feels . . . disproportionate. The Neil Gorsuch confirmation fight wasn’t that long ago, and Democrats didn’t resort to all of this in 2017.

Democrats are reacting to everything about Kavanaugh with alarm and horror, even though every step of the process was predictable. Rumors about Justice Kennedy retiring grew louder each year. Judge Kavanaugh is well known and well respected in Washington’s legal community. He wasn’t on Trump’s initial list of potential justices, but he was one of five additions Trump made to the list back in November 2017, eight months before Kennedy announced his retirement. Everyone knew that a five–four originalist/strict constructionist/conservative majority was likely to happen . . . but if we’re being honest with ourselves, replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh doesn’t really change the dynamics of the court that dramatically. Kennedy’s decisions on gay rights and gay marriage set his reputation, but he voted with the conservative/strict constructionist/originalist wing on most other issues.

Some Democrats will inevitably argue that this is simply payback to Republicans for the refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell operated within the rules of the Constitution — that is, there’s nothing in the Constitution or law that said that the Senate had to consider Garland.

You can argue that Senate Republicans should have given Merrick Garland a hearing. But at the end of the hearing, Republicans could have and should have said, “The fights over Justices Roberts and Alito established the precedent that senators can vote against the confirmation of a well-qualified, scandal-free judge if he disagrees with the philosophy and legal vision of the nominee. Therefore, I vote against Judge Garland.”

Perhaps Democrats have convinced themselves that if Garland had gotten a hearing and vote, they could have persuaded four of the then-54 Senate Republicans to vote for him. That would have been a tall order. Perhaps Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, although remember Murkowski was up for reelection in 2016? Maybe Illinois’s Mark Kirk . . . and then who? Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire? No way she’s voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee from President Obama while running for reelection. Thirty-one Republicans voted against Sotomayor, and 37 voted against Elena Kagan.

And mind you, this would be happening in the heat of the Trump-Hillary campaign. Do you think four Republicans would vote to give Obama one more Supreme Court justice, right before facing the voters? Extremely unlikely.

So you’ve got this volcanic, rule-smashing, evidence-free-accusing, decorum-obliterating, dishonest, code-red nuclear meltdown of a reaction from Democrats in response to a well-respected, rigorous, mild-mannered judge . . . who some conservatives (such as David French) doubted was the best possible pick.

Yes, some of this reflects 2020 ambitions on the part of Booker and Harris, some of this reflects anti-Trump rage, some of this reflects Democratic certainty that on day one Kavanaugh would say to his colleagues, “Hey, everybody, what do you say we ban abortion?” But one almost wonders if there’s something else at work here. Everyone could see that with 51 Republican senators and a bunch of red-state Democratic senators who had voted for Gorsuch seeking reelection, Kavanaugh was a very safe bet for confirmation. Why are Democrats concentrating so much energy and time and focus on a battle they’re certain to lose?

It leaves one wondering, is there some other X-factor at work in all this?

Are some people worried about the health of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer or something?

He’s Coming for Your Large Sodas, America

Finally, an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire will run for president, to save the country from having an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire as president.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of a business news empire, is preparing to run for president as a Democrat, The Times understands.

Mr Bloomberg, 76, a former mayor of New York with a personal fortune of more than $50 billion, has previously considered running as an independent but decided against it in 2012 for fear of splitting the Democratic vote.

He has told confidants that he is planning to join the presidential race, in which several leading business figures could follow the example of Donald Trump and throw their hats in the ring.

This is actually good news for the president. If Bloomberg runs for president the way he ran for mayor, he will attempt to overwhelm all of his Democratic opponents with a tidal wave of spending. Forget about it, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and the rest of the also-rans. You would probably see Howard Schultz countering with his own big-ticket advertising blitz, and those of us watching the primary from the outside will laugh ourselves silly as the self-proclaimed party of the working man has two billionaires throwing around tens of millions in television advertising. Bloomberg has most of Schultz’s weaknesses coupled with the fact that he was a registered Republican for his first seven years in the political world. Bloomberg embodies wealth, Wall Street, and “the Establishment,” meaning he would be the perfect primary target for . . .  [dramatic cliffhanger music]

Are Sequels Always Worse Than the Original?

. . . Bernie Sanders, who is apparently expected to run again.

Allies to Bernie Sanders say the Vermont Independent senator is increasingly likely to make a second bid for the White House in 2020 — once again as a Democrat.

“I expect him to run,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, a movement formed by Sanders operatives after their candidate lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I wondered if Bernie Sanders would prefer to be king-maker rather than the king in 2020 — sit back, let the various candidates court his endorsement, let him probe them on how they would enact the agenda he prefers, and then anoint someone like Elizabeth Warren as his rightful successor.

Sanders is four and a half years older than President Trump. The Vermont senator just turned 77 and, if nominated, would be 79 on the campaign trail in the general election. (How much do you think the questions about health were a factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016?) And there have to be more than a few Clinton supporters who blame Sanders in part for her defeat.

ADDENDA: The New York Times continues to live down to its critics’ accusations.

Headline on a piece: Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.

The sixth paragraph: “A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.”

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