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Feinstein, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has come under fire by her opponents on Capitol Hill, who suggest she withheld potentially damaging information about Kavanaugh until after his confirmation hearings had wrapped in order to cripple has candidacy.
The controversy revolves around Christine Blasey Ford, a California-based university professor who alleged in a letter that Kavanaugh and his then-classmate Mark Judge had physically and sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, when they were teenagers.
Ford, 51, requested confidentiality in the letter, which was sent in late July to Feinstein through the office of Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., The Washington Post reported.
But reports of the letter surfaced about six weeks later, in mid-September. Without revealing Ford's identity, Feinstein acknowledged the letter's existence and referred the information to federal investigators.
That gap in time between Feinstein's discovery and her public acknowledgement quickly became a central objection among key Republicans in the Senate.
"Unfortunately, committee Republicans have only known this person's identity from news reports for less than 24 hours and known about her allegations for less than a week," said Senate Judiciary Commitee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "Senator Feinstein, on the other hand, has had this information for many weeks and deprived her colleagues of the information necessary to do our jobs."
Democrats had already triggered a Senate rule allowing them to delay a Judiciary Committee vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination by one week. The vote is now scheduled for Thursday, but the entire Democratic minority on the committee — and at least two Republicans in the Senate — has called to further delay the proceeding.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the most senior member of the committee, echoed Grassley's criticism of Feinstein.
"I remain deeply disappointed by the way Senate Democrats have so grossly mishandled these accusations thus far," Hatch said in a statement Monday. "It seems in bad faith to hold this information from Republicans and from the FBI for over a month and then to suggest at the final hour that the only path forward is delaying the confirmation to allow the FBI to investigate."
Trump himself took issue with the timing, as well.
Asked by reporters at the White House on Monday about Ford's allegation, Trump said, "This is something that should've been brought up long before this ... that's a long time ago and nobody mentioned it until the other day."
The president added that it's "very unfortunate that they didn't mention it sooner."
Trump was shortly followed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who slammed Feinstein for having known about the "accusation of 36-year-old misconduct" for "at least 6 weeks." Yet, he added, Feinstein chose to keep the information secret "until the eleventh hour."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas provided perhaps the most severe assessment of Feinstein's actions. "If Democrats reject the committee handling this swiftly and in a bipartisan way through regular order, then it's clear that their only intention is to smear Judge Kavanaugh and derail his nomination," he said.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford have said they are willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Grassley said the "standard procedure" he would rather follow is to schedule follow-up phone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford to ask them about the allegation.
In his statement, Grassley said that Feinstein had refused to cooperate with him. "I asked Senator Feinstein's office yesterday to join me in scheduling these follow-ups. Thus far, they have refused."
Feinstein in a statement, responded: "There's a lot of information we don't know and the FBI should have the time it needs to investigate this new material. Staff calls aren't the appropriate way to handle this."