The Slatest

Report: Woman Accused Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh of High School–Era Sexual Misconduct

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings on September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings on Sept. 6 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Friday, the New Yorker finally revealed more details on the contents of a secret document that a woman had submitted to Rep. Anna Eshoo concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The letter details the woman’s accusation that the nominee engaged in sexual misconduct against her while both were in high school. The report by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer alleges that the woman, who has not been identified and has asked for anonymity, wrote that “during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down” and “attempted to force himself on her.” It continues:

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.

Kavanaugh contested the claims in a statement, declaring: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” His classmate told the New Yorker: “I have no recollection of that.”

According to Farrow and Mayer, the letter was sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in July. The woman also reached out to Feinstein’s office directly. She eventually decided not to speak publicly about her accusation after watching Kavanaugh glide toward a seemingly inevitable confirmation, according to a source who spoke to the New Yorker.

Feinstein’s handling of the letter created tension among Democratic members of the committee. The senator did not notify her Democratic colleagues about the allegations and refused to share the letter. Instead, Feinstein decided the accusation was “too distant in the past to merit public discussion,” Farrow and Mayer write, citing a source with knowledge of the decision. Feinstein reportedly felt that the committee should focus on “legal, rather than personal, issues” when questioning Kavanaugh, the source elaborated, and that, when pressed about the letter, Feinstein stated that she had “taken care of it.” The senator only briefed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democrats about the letter on Wednesday, “with no staff present.”

That same day, Feinstein sent the information to the FBI, which told BuzzFeed News that “we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process.” The agency also passed it on to the White House to assess. On Friday, in response to a query about the accusation, White House spokesman Raj Shah passed along Kavanaugh’s statement “categorically and unequivocally” denying the claim.

Kavanaugh’s supporters began questioning the woman’s allegation shortly after the New Yorker story was published. Even the night before the story came out, Ed Whelan, who has been involved in the selection of Donald Trump’s judicial nominees and vigorously defended Kavanaugh, asked whether the accuser “will say she was sober at time of alleged incident at drinking party. If drunk, how drunk?”

On Friday morning, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley released a letter from 65 women who knew Kavanaugh in high school that states that Kavanaugh “behaved honorably and treated women with respect.” The letter was clearly timed to counteract the New Yorker report; BuzzFeed News reported on Friday afternoon that Kavanaugh’s friends spearheaded it on Thursday in response to then-hazy allegations. It concluded:

“The signers of this letter hold a broad range of political views. Many of us are not lawyers, but we know Brett Kavanaugh as a person. And he has always been a good person.”

This article has been updated since publication.