WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have referred a letter concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the FBI.
The contents of the letter have been closely guarded by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as California Rep. Anna Eshoo, who originally received the letter and shared it with Feinstein, according to sources familiar with the matter. But whispers of what it contains have made the rounds across Capitol Hill over the past week.
The attention on it burst into the public when the Intercept published a report on the rumors surrounding the letter on Wednesday.
“This matter has been referred to the FBI for investigation,” Sen. Dick Durbin told BuzzFeed News when asked about the letter on Thursday.
When asked whether they had received a referral of the letter or its contents, an FBI spokesperson confirmed Thursday afternoon that they had received "the information on the night of September 12." The spokesperson added, "we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process."
The White House received the updated file on Thursday after noon and sent it via courier to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a White House official said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee received the updated file on Thursday, a senior Republican aide confirmed to BuzzFeed News Thursday. All senators have access to that file — not just those on the committee — the aide added. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had previously asked to see the letter, but Feinstein declined.
The background file is a physical copy kept in the Senate. Most senators have already left Washington due to Hurricane Florence. The aide said that committee chair Chuck Grassley has not seen the information that was added to Kavanaugh's file — he was en route back to Iowa by the time it arrived.
In a statement earlier Thursday, Feinstein confirmed that she had referred the letter to “federal investigative authorities.”
“I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” Feinstein said. “That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”
BuzzFeed News contacted the woman believed to be the subject of the letter at her home last week. She declined to comment. BuzzFeed News has not been able to confirm the contents of the letter.
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.”
When asked about the letter and the rumors surrounding its contents last week, Eshoo’s office said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, “Our office does not discuss casework.” They declined to comment further.
There is no criminal investigation related to the contents of the letter, a source said.
The Republican aide said that Republican and Democratic staffers on the Judiciary Committee had a routine call with the FBI in late August to discuss Kavanaugh's background file, but Grassley's staff was unaware of the letter or the information in it before Wednesday. Grassley also told reporters he did not know anything about the letter, other than what had been reported.
A judicial nominee's background file includes information that the FBI gathers during the background investigation, including information reported by the nominee, reports about the FBI's interviews with other people about the nominee, and any documents or other materials that were turned over. Once the investigation is complete, the file is provided to the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It's considered a highly sensitive file — only a handful of staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee are allowed to handle it, and it's kept under lock and key in the White House and carried around in a bag with a lock on it. If senators have questions for a nominee about information in the file, they can ask about it during a nonpublic closed hearing that takes place as part of the confirmation proceedings.
Sen. Chuck Schumer's office told BuzzFeed News that he "has not had access to the letter but believes the Judiciary Committee is handling it appropriately."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec dismissed the letter as an attempt by Democrats to defeat Kavanaugh's nomination.
“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 Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” Kupec said in the statement.
“Throughout 25 years of public service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has thoroughly and repeatedly vetted Judge Kavanaugh, dating back to 1993, for some of the most highly sensitive roles. He has served in the Office of Independent Counsel, the White House, and on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, all before his nomination earlier this year to serve as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.
“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,” Kupec added.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Chris Coons, and Richard Blumenthal — all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee — declined to comment Thursday.
Tarini Parti and Zoe Tillman contributed to this story.
This story was updated with a statement from the FBI.
This story has been updated with a statement from the White House.
This story has been updated with a statement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Lissandra Villa is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Lissandra Villa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Paul McLeod at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.