Senate investigators said Monday that the FBI ended the investigation of alleged sexual misconduct in college by Supreme CourtJustice Brett M. Kavanaugh after interviewing at least four people involved in the purported incident who could not substantiate the story.
Details of the dead-end for the probe blew holes in claims published in The New York Times that investigators dropped the ball, perhaps purposely, during the brutal confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. It also undermined calls by Democratic presidential hopefuls and lawmakers to reopen the case and pursue impeachment of the high court justice.
Senate investigators involved in the probe said their work was mischaracterized in the article, posted Saturday in The Times’ opinion section.
“A year ago, The New York Times did not even find Deborah Ramirez’s flimsy at best allegations fit to print,” said Mike Davis, a former SenateJudiciary Committee counsel who worked on the Kavanaugh confirmation. “These allegations have not gotten any truer over the last year, and this is just the left’s attempt to repackage and relitigate their lies and smears against Justice Kavanaugh, a very good man.”
The newspaper opinion piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly was adapted from their anti-Kavanaugh book set for release this week.
It rehashed allegations made by Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale University with Justice Kavanaugh. She said last year during the justice’s confirmation process that he had thrust his penis in her face at a party at Yale.
However, another SenateJudiciary Committee staffer said the FBI interviewed Ms. Ramirez about her claim as well as two purported eyewitnesses to the incident. Agents also interviewed one of Ms. Ramirez’s close friends from college. The staffer’s account is backed up by a 2018 report by The Associated Press.
In the newspaper article, Ms. Pogrebin and Ms. Kelly also say friends pushed the justice’s penis into the hand of another female student at a party. They said the story has “echoes” of Ms. Ramirez’s allegations.
An “editor’s note” was later added to clarify that the unidentified woman declined to be interviewed and that, according to friends, she does not remember the episode.
Max Stier, a former classmate who allegedly said he saw Justice Kavanaugh with his pants down at a party, also declined to discuss the incident publicly, according to the report. Mr. Stier is the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group, and has been a lawyer at Williams & Connolly, which has provided legal defense to the Clintons over the years.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings, said his staff chased down eight people linked to Ms. Ramirez during the committee’s investigation into alleged misconduct and never heard from Mr. Stier or anything about the other incident alleged by The New York Times.
“This is not an allegation. It’s barely a thirdhand rumor. These writers didn’t even speak to the man who they claimed originally recounted this rumor,” Mr. Grassley said on the chamber floor. “What’s left is only layers and layers of decades-old hearsay.”
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said her side was aware of Mr. Stier’s allegation and requested an FBI inquiry.
“The FBI could have conducted an investigation that would have been seen as objective by both sides. Unfortunately, it’s now clear the FBI largely ignored these requests because the scope of its investigation was so constrained by the White House and Senate Republicans. It’s unfortunate the FBI wasn’t allowed to do its job,” she said.
The holes in the story have not deterred Mr. Kavanaugh’s detractors.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, a Democratic presidential candidate, brushed aside questions about the evidence and the editor’s note and demanded the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh.
“The fact that someone does not remember the details of that incident doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of evidence if there are other witnesses who can establish that the fact occurred,” she said on NPR. “And so I wouldn’t say there’s no evidence. It is also, I must say, very normal for someone — especially someone who has been the subject of this kind of behavior — to not be clear on the details.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro were other 2020 Democratic contenders who called for impeachment proceedings, though not all Democrats were eager.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, appeared hesitant to open impeachment proceedings against Justice Kavanaugh because his panel is focused on questions of impeachment regarding the president.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the allegation is another “unhinged” personal attack from Democrats, who recently filed a brief at the Supreme Court threatening the justices with court-packing if they issue decisions they don’t like. He noted that six 2020 presidential candidates have proposed expanding the court.
“It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a bad case of sour grapes. This is not just a left-wing obsession with one man. It’s part of a deliberate effort to attack judicial independence,” Mr. McConnell said.
The calls for impeachment are no surprise to court watchers, who long anticipated an attempt by the left to discredit the justice ahead of any 5-4 rulings.
They also noted that the impeachment rhetoric has been revived ahead of the 2020 presidential election, giving any moves against the justice heightened political scrutiny.
“It is about working up the base and maybe convincing it that judges matter, something Republicans have known for at least two generations,” said Lucas Powe, a law professor at the University of Texas.
Legal scholars noted that the Democrat-controlled House could vote to impeach Justice Kavanaugh if lawmakers believe he lied during his confirmation hearings, but the Republican-controlled Senate likely would not vote to remove the justice.
“The Democrats do not actually think they will remove him from office. Their goal is to diminish his legitimacy as a judge,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law.
“Beyond impeachment, Justice Kavanaugh’s opponents will continue to use all of the allegations to delegitimize any 5-4 decision he joins,” he Mr. Blackman said.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said Democrats would need “clear and conclusive” evidence to reopen the controversy surrounding the justice’s confirmation about a year ago.
“There is a danger that politicians will seek ‘do-overs’ with shifting majorities or political realities,” he said.
Ilya Shapiro, the publisher of the Cato Institute’s Supreme Court Review, said the article provided nothing new other than insinuations by people who did not have direct knowledge of the relevant allegations.
“It’s not a surprise that Democrats are now making political hay out of all this, but it’s all smoke, no fire,” he told The Washington Times.
He also cautioned Democrats against going after the justice. At least two Democratic senators who were up for reelection in states President Trump won and who voted against Justice Kavanaugh in October lost their Senate seats.
“Calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment is a dangerous move that may end up backfiring, just as Democrats running in close Senate elections were hurt last year after the confirmation imbroglio,” Mr. Shapiro said.
Justice Kavanaugh also faced sexual misconduct allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, who said he touched her inappropriately while the two were at a high school party more than three decades ago. Her allegation was never corroborated.
• Jeff Mordock, Gabriella Muñoz and James Varney contributed to this report.
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