WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday demanded that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh be investigated or impeached in response to a new allegation that he exposed himself to a female classmate at a drunken dorm party years ago at Yale University.
The allegation surfaced Saturday night in a New York Times report. A classmate, Max Stier, said he saw Kavanaugh with his pants down at the party, where friends pushed Kavanaugh's penis into the young woman's hand, The Times reported. Stier notified senators and the FBI before Kavanaugh's confirmation, but the FBI did not investigate, The Times reported.
The Washington Post last year confirmed that two intermediaries had relayed such a claim to lawmakers and the FBI. The Washington Post did not publish a story, in part because the intermediaries declined to identify the alleged witness and because the woman who was said to be involved declined to comment. The Times article, drawing from reporting for a forthcoming book, is based on interviews with "two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier."
Stier, the chief executive of a nonpartisan group in Washington, declined to comment Sunday. A court spokeswoman said Kavanaugh had no comment. The woman did not return a call seeking comment.
The political fallout from the new allegation suggested the divisions surrounding Kavanaugh's nomination last year will continue to be felt in the 2020 campaign. Republicans denounced the Times report as an effort by the media to smear Kavanaugh. Some seized on the fact that the story - labeled as a news analysis - did not mention that, according to the book, the woman involved in the alleged incident has told friends she does not recall it.
On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that Kavanaugh should "start suing people, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue."
"The lies being told about him are unbelievable. False Accusations without recrimination. When does it stop? They are trying to influence his opinions. Can't let that happen!" Trump tweeted.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote that the "far left's willingness to seize on completely uncorroborated and unsubstantiated allegations during last year's confirmation process was a dark and embarrassing chapter for the Senate."
Impeachment calls came from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro, all presidential candidates.
"He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice," Harris said in a tweet. "He must be impeached."
Warren tweeted: "Last year the Kavanaugh nomination was rammed through the Senate without a thorough examination of the allegations against him. Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newest revelations are disturbing. Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached."
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called for an investigation of Kavanaugh, citing what he said was "a pattern of sexually demeaning women."
Kavanaugh's bitter confirmation hearing captivated and divided the nation last fall. The hearings were dominated by Christine Blasey Ford's account, first reported by The Post, that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were high school students in the 1980s. Kavanaugh strenuously denied Ford's claim, calling it an "orchestrated political hit."
The new claim echoes an allegation made by a different female Yale student, Deborah Ramirez, during Kavanaugh's confirmation process. Kavanaugh has denied that allegation.
Shortly before the scheduled vote on his nomination, the Trump administration asked the FBI to investigate those allegations, though the inquiry was restricted in scope. The FBI interviewed fewer than a dozen people - most of them from Kavanaugh's high school days. They interviewed Ramirez.
As the FBI was wrapping up its investigation, the intermediaries working on behalf of Stier delivered his account to agency officials. The intermediaries told The Post last year that they had relayed that a classmate of Kavanaugh had witnessed the incident while taking a study break at Yale's Lawrance Hall. They declined to give The Post the classmate's name.
No one from the FBI called the classmate to follow up on the account, they said.
The Post could not independently corroborate the allegation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the witness had not authorized them to use their names.
The Times on Saturday identified the witness as Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service. The Times story was based on research for a book, "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation," by two of its reporters. It said that at least two senators on the Judiciary Committee learned of Stier's allegations.
Last fall, the intermediaries said they shared the account with a veteran FBI agent, who told them he passed the information on to officials directly responsible for Kavanaugh's background check. They said the witness also shared his account with a Senate Judiciary Committee member who offered assurance that it would be passed on directly to officials responsible for the background check.
Mike Davis, who was chief counsel for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, during the Kavanaugh nomination process, said that to the best of his knowledge, Grassley's office has no record of Stier reaching out with his allegation.
"Even if we did receive an allegation from Mr. Stier as described by the New York Times reporting, it is difficult to see how this unsubstantiated hearsay, 'corroborated' by anonymous sources, involving an alleged victim who other unnamed sources said does not even remember the event, would have changed the outcome of the confirmation vote," said Davis, who now leads the Article III Project, an advocacy group that promotes Trump's judicial picks.
Even before Stier's account was made public, the background check had drawn criticism from some quarters for its highly curtailed scope. Agents did not interview Ford, a professor in California who alleged Kavanaugh assaulted her decades ago in Maryland.
The account attributed to Stier bears similarities to the claims made by Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of thrusting his penis in her face at a drunken party, causing her to touch it without her consent. Ramirez's representatives provided agents with the names of more than 20 people they said may have information relevant to her claims. During the background check, Ramirez's team had no indication that the bureau had interviewed any of them.
Ramirez's account was first published by The New Yorker last year. The magazine said that Ramirez in their initial conversations was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh's role in the incident, but that she grew more confident after assessing her memories and consulting with an attorney.
In their Saturday article, The Times reporters said they spoke with at least seven people who supported Ramirez's account, including two classmates who heard about the incident shortly after it allegedly occurred. Ramirez's mother told the reporters that she had heard about the Yale incident long before Kavanaugh was a federal judge. The other people whose accounts supported Ramirez were not identified in the Times story.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday on the Kavanaugh background investigation.
At a Senate hearing later that year, FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency's handling of the politically radioactive issue.
"As is standard, the investigation was very specific in scope, limited in scope, and that is the usual process," adding that "my folks have assured me that the usual process was followed."
This article was written by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Cat Zakrzewski, and Robert O’Harrow Jr., reporters for The Washington Post.