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What we know about the letter detailing Brett Kavanaugh allegations

President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh strongly denied on Friday an allegation of sexual misconduct from his high school years. The New Yorker reported that a woman has accused him of trying to "force himself on her" at a party more than 30 years ago. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to unpack what is known and what questions remain unanswered.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are new details in a controversy surrounding President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

    Brett Kavanaugh today strongly denied an allegation of sexual misconduct from his high school years. "The New Yorker" magazine reported that a woman who is choosing to remain anonymous has accused Kavanaugh of trying to — quote — "force himself on her" at a party more than 30 years ago.

    Here to unpack what we know and what we don't are Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Lisa, what is the nature of these allegations?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We can report our own reporting is that there is a letter that was received by Senator Feinstein and at least one other member of Congress from a woman who is remaining anonymous, in which she alleges sexual misconduct from when she was in high school, and also when Judge Kavanaugh was in high school.

    That's our reporting. The rest, we have to refer to The New York Times and to "The New Yorker," which are reporting that this woman alleges that she was held down by then student Brett Kavanaugh, and that he attempted to force himself on her. That's the words that they use, that he and a friend put — raised the volume on music, so that they couldn't — her protests couldn't be heard, but that she managed to make her way out.

    That classmate, whose name we also don't know, has been quoted by some of these stories as saying he doesn't recall this incident at all. Meantime, this letter was referred to the FBI for potential investigation by Senator Feinstein's office. The FBI last night said that they are not investigating this as a criminal matter.

    Among other issues is the statute of limitations. Instead, they are putting this as part of the file on Mr. Kavanaugh, who has gone through six different FBI background checks. Senators can read that update if they want.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, what is the White House and what are Judge — what is Judge Kavanaugh's saying about this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is sticking by Judge Kavanaugh.

    They're saying that they're going to continue to support him. And in a statement last night, the White House — a spokesperson from the White House actually questioned the timing of this and said that Judge Kavanaugh had sat through — took more than 2,000 questions that he's answered, dozens of questions about all sorts of things, and essentially that he — if this was — that he's been vetted a lot, and that this really is something that's coming out at the 11th hour.

    They said specifically, "This is an 11th hour to attempt to delay his confirmation."

    The judge himself is also saying that he categorically deny that this happened, that he that he doesn't believe that this happened. Really, he's just denying that this at all — anything that could have happened.

    And then a letter by 65 women who went to high school with Judge Kavanaugh was written.

    And in it — I'm going to read to you a part of it. It says, "For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect."

    Our reporting shows that clerks for Judge Kavanaugh organized that letter. And I spoke to a White House source who told me that the reason why they're 65 women from high school who can even write this letter, because that was a big question for me, is that he has been vetted so many times, that he is actually in touch with all of these women.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So the timing of it, Lisa, I mean, it does raise questions. What do you know about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right, so this is from multiple sources, Democratic, on the Hill, that Senator Feinstein was made aware of this letter in July, and that she held on to it for many reasons, the most prominent of which were that the woman strongly wanted to remain anonymous at that time, and she wanted to protect her identity, the other of which was that these are older allegations, and there were still questions vetting sort of what they meant and whether they needed to be brought up, from what they knew.

    But that has been a real disagreement among Democrats. Other Democrats felt like this was something that needed to be made public. Of course, it's been a problem, I think, for newsrooms as well. This is an anonymous woman. This is something that's hard to vet for anyone.

    But, clearly, some Democrats wanted this out, and they leaked it. Top Democratic sources told me, yes, this was a leak by Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, just quickly, MeToo is very much in the atmosphere right now. What is the thinking about the effect on the president?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this could politically hurt the president if this actually hampers the nomination.

    President Trump stands accused by several women of sexual assault and sexual abuse in his own right. He's also faced backlash because White House press — Staff Secretary Rob Porter had to resign because two ex-wives accused him of allegations of abuse.

    So there's this idea that the president is already facing a lot of pressure in saying, this is a man who's been accused himself who is now surrounding him with other men who are also accused.

    But I did speak to a representative from Anita Hill, who also said that she thinks that — Anita Hill says that she — and, of course, she is the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her. She said that this should be investigated fairly and that this should not be weaponized against this accuser.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, just quickly, as we wrap up, no sense that this will down — will derail his confirmation?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This has not derailed him yet. But it is changing some important calculus.

    The key senators who will make this decision, I think, are going to take more time to announce that decision, including Senator Susan Collins of Maine. That's going to put more pressure on Democrats who were hoping that she would announce her vote first, as the deciding vote, allowing some swing red state Democrats perhaps to make their decision, and not be the deciding vote.

    Now no one wants to be the deciding vote at this moment. Everyone's going to wait to see how this plays out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very interesting.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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