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Intercept Report Reveals Senate Ignored Federal Court Employees Willing to Testify Against Kavanaugh

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley has announced that the committee will hold another hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh next Monday in light of accusations that he attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl at a party while he was in high school. Both Kavanaugh and his accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford, will testify under oath. As the allegations against Kavanaugh gain steam, a new report from Ryan Grim for The Intercept has revealed that attorney Cyrus Sanai tried multiple times to reach out to Senators Charles Grassley and Dianne Feinstein on behalf of federal court employees also willing to speak out against Kavanaugh. The employees wanted to talk about Kavanaugh’s work as a clerk for disgraced former 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned in 2017 after being accused by at least 15 women of sexual misconduct. But Sanai never heard back. Kavanaugh has said repeatedly that he did not witness Kozinski behave in a sexually inappropriate way. We speak with Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept. His latest piece is headlined “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley has announced the committee will hold another hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh next Monday, following the accusations he attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl at a party while he was in high school. Both Kavanaugh and his accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford, will testify under oath.

Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh and his friend pushed her into a bedroom during a party and that Kavanaugh then forcibly pinned her down on a bed and tried to pull off her clothes. She says she tried to scream, but that Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to silence her. On Monday, her attorney, Debra Katz, called the incident an attempted rape. She spoke on CNN.

DEBRA KATZ: She clearly considers this an attempted rape. She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.

AMY GOODMAN: [Judge Kavanaugh] denied the accusation and issued a new statement Monday that, quote, “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” Kavanaugh said.

Dr. Blasey Ford identified Kavanaugh’s friend as the conservative writer Mark Judge. Judge once wrote a book about his high school days, titled Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk. The book describes being an alcoholic in high school and even features a cameo by someone he calls “Bart O’Kavanaugh” who vomited in someone’s car and passed out on his way back from a party.

On Monday, Republican Senator Susan Collins welcomed the additional hearing and said if Kavanaugh lied about what happened, that would be, quote, “disqualifying.”

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: It’s important that there be a very thorough interview and that we see both individuals respond to the allegations. There are an awful lot of questions, inconsistencies, gaps. And that’s why, to be fair to both, we need to know what happened. … Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying.

AMY GOODMAN: The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, is a professor at Palo Alto University in California who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Monday’s hearing comes just 50 days before midterm elections. Meanwhile, Democrats have called for the FBI to reopen Kavanaugh’s background check investigation. Senator Richard Blumenthal told The Washington Post, quote, “If there’s a hearing before that investigation, the committee is going to be shooting in the dark with questions.”

For more, we’re joined here in our New York studio by Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept. Last week, he was the first to report that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein had a secret letter describing an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman in high school, and that Feinstein was refusing to share it with her Democratic colleagues. His new piece is headlined “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.”

Ryan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, let’s start with the tick-tock, if you will—


AMY GOODMAN: —of how all this was revealed. You were the one who broke the story of this secret letter.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And if you kind of piece together my reporting with Ronan Farrow’s reporting, who’s done some very interesting work on this, too, you find that on July 6th, she first sent a letter to Anna Eshoo, her local congresswoman.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying “her” because she was anonymous at the time.

RYAN GRIM: At this time, she was anonymous. She told her friends, we now know, from a Mercury News story around that time—she warned them. She said, “I’ve reached out to a Washington Post tip line. I’ve also reached out to my congresswoman, and I plan to reach out to my senator. And the world is going to come down on me. I’m willing to take the plunge. This is a decision that I’ve made.” So, this was July.

Dianne Feinstein says that she can’t recall if she spoke with Dr. Blasey Ford after getting the letter. Her office says they did—that Feinstein did speak to her. In any event, as August unfolded, she witnessed the way that Kavanaugh’s nomination was marching forward and, for some reason, decided to walk back. Ronan Farrow has reported that Feinstein wanted to make the kind of legal argument against Kavanaugh rather than a personal argument against him. And so, in all of this context she decided, “OK, you know what? Maybe this isn’t the right time. Why destroy my life if Democrats are just going to roll over, and [he]’s just going to be confirmed anyway?” So, in the last week or so—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And meanwhile—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —during this time, did Feinstein notify any of the other members of the committee about what she had?

RYAN GRIM: No, no. And so, somehow word leaked out to some other members of the committee in the last week or two, and they came to her and said, “We appreciate the role of confidentiality. We respect victims’ rights here. But we don’t necessarily want you to unilaterally make the decision on whether or not this letter should be sent to federal authorities, whether there should be further investigation, whether we can speak to the victim and talk to her about coming forward.” And she refused. She said, “No.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Dr. Christine—

RYAN GRIM: No, this is Feinstein.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, this is Feinstein.

RYAN GRIM: She said, “No, I’m not going to share the letter.” And so, once you have a dispute among Democrats on the committee like that, it’s only a matter of time until it gets into the press. So I had sources telling me about this dispute, that there were Democrats on the committee who wanted to privately view the letter—not that they wanted to out the victim, not that they wanted her to release the letter even, but that they wanted to just view the letter privately to see what these allegations were, to see whether or not there needed to be a ratcheting up of this situation. And so, after my story came out, there was a meeting of the committee Democrats, and they pressured her. They said, “You’ve got to do something.” And so, at that point, she—

AMY GOODMAN: What could be her logic for not sharing it with the other members of the committee? Not saying she’s going to raise it, but—

RYAN GRIM: Not to get in her head, but she has taken a much more conservative approach to this nomination, where her fellow committee members were disrupting the hearing. Cory Booker famously released private documents, which turned out not to be private, but, you know, there’s been a lot of theater. And so, perhaps—

AMY GOODMAN: Facing expulsion from the Senate.

RYAN GRIM: Right, right. And he said, “Bring it on.” And so, perhaps she worried that if she shared it—although she could have redacted it—but if she shared it, that it would eventually leak out. And to be sure, once other committee members did find out about it, it did get out into the press, so she would be correct about that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what would be the rationale for not at least notifying the FBI that there was other information that they may have to look into, into Kavanaugh’s background?

RYAN GRIM: Right, the rationale there would be once you notify the FBI, the FBI puts that document in his background file, and that background file is accessible to other committee members. And once it’s accessible to other committee members, it may leak out into the public.

AMY GOODMAN: So then, Senator Feinstein, though it sounds like—at least according to Dr. Blasey’s lawyer, who felt that it was Senator Feinstein who did the right thing, and she was somewhat appalled that it got out, apparently.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, then Senator Feinstein is stopping even the FBI investigating a possible crime.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And so, what’s also interesting is that we—and we’re going to learn more about this over the years and decades to come: Did Feinstein ultimately get permission to send it to the FBI last Thursday? She has been saying, you know, that since July, she didn’t turn it over on principle. Did she cave on that principle because she was under pressure from her Democratic colleagues, or did she reach out? Her attorney says that Feinstein had not reached out, so we’ll see about that. But, you know, she made the judgment that it became untenable to hold it back.

It has had the effect of, in some respect, discrediting the allegations, because now Republicans are saying, “Oh, this looks like a last-minute thing, that you’re just throwing everything against the wall. Why didn’t we hear about this before? You had all these opportunities.” You know—

AMY GOODMAN: And the minority leader of this committee that was weighing Kavanaugh did not think, perhaps—I mean, it has the suggestion of—this was worthy enough to investigate.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And in some ways, she was—

AMY GOODMAN: Though she says—

RYAN GRIM: You know, Dr. Ford was failed by that, in the sense that she did not come at the last minute. You know, as soon as—before he was even nominated, he was only on the shortlist, and she was telling friends about this before he was even on this list of 10 or so approved nominees.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask you about your second piece, because this piece suggests that there could be other people who have information about Judge Kavanaugh that has not come forward.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about that piece? And also, who is Cyrus Sanai?

RYAN GRIM: He is an attorney in California who is the whistleblower who first called out Judge Alex Kozinski. He was the chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court, who, in December of 2017, was finally brought down by a series of Washington Post articles about his sexual harassment in the workplace over decades. He came out in 2008 and made these allegations publicly, filed complaints against him.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Sanai, the attorney.

RYAN GRIM: This is Sanai—and has consistently since then. The 9th Circuit judges are the ones who police themselves, so Kozinski stayed on the court until the combination of the media reports and the #MeToo movement took him down.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this is the famously liberal 9th Circuit Court.

RYAN GRIM: Exactly, that’s right. And so, because of that, he’s become the person that you speak to about issues related to the 9th Circuit Court. If you’re an employee within that federal branch, that’s who you would logically reach out to to talk about blowing the whistle, because he’s already persona non grata among these judges and you know he’s going to protect your confidence.

So, after my original story came out, he reached out to me and said, “I also sent a letter to Chuck Grassley and Feinstein in July saying that there are members of the federal court, employees of the federal court, who knew and worked with Kavanaugh and can testify, under the right circumstances, if they’re protected, that Kavanaugh is lying about what he knew about the judge’s behavior.” Kavanaugh had said he was shocked and saddened and appalled.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain Kavanaugh’s relationship with Judge Kozinski.

RYAN GRIM: Right, it’s very tight. So, not only was he his clerk in the early '90s, he became close friends with him afterwards. And he and Kozinski vetted the clerks that went to Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court, which is one of the most powerful positions in the legal world, to vet Supreme Court justices. Kavanaugh's own clerk last year was Kozinski’s middle son. So these are very close people. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: And Kavanaugh was recommended to be Anthony Kennedy’s clerk, which he was, by Judge Kozinski.

RYAN GRIM: Yes. And then Kennedy recommended to Trump that Kavanaugh be his replacement. Without Kozinski, you don’t have Kavanaugh. And so, he has distanced himself, in testimony and in public statements, from Kozinski’s behavior. Interestingly, Mazie Hirono followed up to him in written questions—

AMY GOODMAN: The senator from Hawaii.

RYAN GRIM: Senator Mazie Hirono said, “Please search your email and check to see if you got any sexually inappropriate emails from Kozinski, because to know him for 20 years like this and to not have is very strange.” His reply was—instead of the wall of denial that he gave in his testimony, his reply to that was “I do not remember receiving any sexually inappropriate emails.” And that’s the end of his written reply.

And so, now, according to Sanai, there are employers who would say, “That’s nonsense. I know firsthand that Kavanaugh was a witness to…”—not that Kavanaugh approved of the behavior, but that he’s lying about this. And his credibility is now central to the accusation of the attempted rape.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to get back to the claims of Dr. Blasey Ford in terms of there was supposedly another person in the room—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —when Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted Professor Blasey Ford, a guy by the name of Mark Judge. Could you talk about Mark Judge, who he is?

RYAN GRIM: Yeah. He’s a known quantity in Washington. When he was brought out as the character witness for Judge Kavanaugh, that should have been setting off alarm bells for everyone. It’s like bringing out the worst guy in your crew as the one that you send to The New York Times to vouch for your character. If Mark judge is the best you can do, that is deeply alarming.

People can just google Mark Judge and find some of his past writings, stuff that’s racist, that’s misogynist. He has said, “It’s nice that feminists say yes means yes and no means no, but there’s a middle ground.” Like he has written these words, in print—not in Facebook posts, not in tweets, but like in published articles.

You know, so, if this is the person who was brought out to deny that he would ever do such a thing—and then, it was not surprising to find out that he was the accomplice named by Dr. Blasey Ford as physically, literally, in the room. And now Kavanaugh is saying that he wasn’t at this party, which is an odd denial because she has not specified what the date was or what the address was. So that also raises red flags. How do you deny being at a party that hasn’t been specified which party it was?

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens on Monday? And, of course, I mean, yesterday we had an extended discussion about this on Democracy Now!, but it brings us back, of course, to Anita Hill.

RYAN GRIM: Right, right. And so, now, as Susan Collins said in the sound you played earlier, the question moves from, you know, “Is this behavior disqualifying?” Because there are a number of Republicans who are coming out and saying, “Boys will be boys. You know, we should forgive behavior like this by a 17-year-old.” What Collins has done is move it to “Is he being truthful about whether or not he did it?” And so, a lot of it will come down, unfortunately, to how credible the witness appears. And from everything I’ve been able to gather about her, she is an extremely formidable woman. And she has passed a lie detector test. She has therapist notes from six years ago. She has other friends that she has confided in. She also is somebody who just exudes credibility. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh has demonstrably perjured himself in front of the committee already about whether or not he had exploited stolen documents back in the 2000s.

AMY GOODMAN: Back under—when he worked for President George W. Bush—


AMY GOODMAN: —around the issue of judicial nominations.

RYAN GRIM: Right, right. He has said that he did not use these stolen documents, and that’s a lie. Like, there are emails that prove that he did it. One of the subject lines in one of the emails said like, “Here’s spy documents.” Like, you know, it’s like—he’s been caught red-handed lying about that particular issue. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: That goes to the issue of perjury because he was asked about it again.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And he also has said that he knows nothing about Alex Kozinski’s behavior, which other employees will say, “That’s absolutely absurd. This was going on for decades.” And so—

AMY GOODMAN: What is your—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what about the issue, though, that—obviously, in the Anita Hill case, she was alleging conduct by Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court nominee, while they were working together. It was harassment, she claimed, by him, on the job. We’re talking here about an incident that happened, as people have said, when one person was 15 and one was 17, if it did happen. What about the differences in terms of the situations involved here?

RYAN GRIM: I think one of the interesting differences—I’d be curious for your take on this, too—is that in 1991, the behavior that she was describing—not the specific actions, but the general behavior of men harassing women in the workplace—was almost universal. It was so widespread. And so, the “There but for the grace of God go I” attitude of men was much more pronounced and out in the open. Like, they were much less ashamed to say, “Well, maybe we need to change the culture, but the culture today is what it is.”

There are some men who are hinting that same thing about attempted rape, but it is much, much more difficult to publicly say, “Who amongst us hasn’t tried to rape a woman?” You know, that’s a—people are making that claim, in public, but many fewer, and they’re being called out—and say, “Are you listening to yourself? Do you hear what you’re saying?” And so, that, I think, is a key difference, that the behavior was criticized but broadly accepted in 1991, what Clarence Thomas was doing, whereas nobody can, with a straight face, say that, “Well, you know, who hasn’t committed a rape here or there as a teenager?”

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to Trump’s response to all of this, saying go ahead with the hearings and the delay.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And I think Trump—like, I think a lot of people are just going to ignore what Trump’s position is on this. Trump stood by Roy Moore through multiple credible allegations of molesting young girls. He stood by Rob Porter even after we published photos of the physical abuse he had committed towards his first wife. You know, he has himself boasted of his penchant for sexual assault. So, if Mark Judge and Donald Trump are your character witnesses here, you’re in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, we want to thank you for being with us, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept. We’ll link to his new piece, “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.” And he broke the story that Senator Dianne Feinstein had a secret letter from an anonymous woman who was accusing Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were both in high school. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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