Senator Lindsey Graham of South CarolinaReuters

As the FBI starts interviewing people who could have witnessed the alleged sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Republicans are calling for an investigation to hold Democrats accountable for what they say has become a divisive and unnecessary public debate over sexual-misconduct allegations leveled against Kavanaugh.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Judiciary Committee who has become the voice of GOP outrage over Kavanaugh’s treatment, called for a probe into who leaked a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychologist. Ford alleged in the letter that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, but asked that her complaint be kept confidential.

Ford stated again during her gripping testimony Thursday before the committee that she had not wanted to go public with her account, adding that she went on the record only after reporters from numerous news organizations, tipped off to her letter, had visited her home and workplace.

“Somebody betrayed her trust for a political purpose,” Graham said Sunday morning on ABC’s This Week. “We’re going to do a wholesale, full-scale investigation of what I think was a despicable process to deter it from happening again.”

Graham said he wanted to know how reporters learned of the confidential letter, which had been delivered to Feinstein by Ford’s Democratic congresswoman, Anna Eshoo.  Graham said he would probe who in Feinstein’s office pointed Ford to lawyers, including Debra Katz, a high-profile women’s-rights lawyer who is disliked by conservatives, though she has brought cases against members of both parties. Finally, Graham said he would try to find out why Ford said during her Senate hearing that she did not know the Judiciary Committee had offered to interview her in California.

Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, also called for an investigation of Democrats, for “the orchestrated smear campaign of character assassination they’ve run against Judge Kavanaugh.”

“Dianne Feinstein and her staff is going to face an investigation for why they leaked that,” Cotton said of Ford’s letter on CBS’s Face the Nation. He spoke as if he were certain that Feinstein’s office was responsible, though during the Thursday hearing she denied that it was, and The Intercept reporter who first revealed the letter’s existence tweeted Thursday that he didn’t learn of it from Feinstein or her aides.

Cotton also joined Graham in questioning whether Ford’s lawyers had withheld information from her, such as the Judiciary Committee’s offer to interview her in her home state of California. He said they should face a professional-misconduct investigation from the D.C. bar.

When host John Dickerson asked how the partisan furor over Ford’s testimony might affect future victims’ decisions to report misconduct, Cotton blamed Democrats. “Any impact that this entire episode has had on women’s willingness to come forward and report sexual assault ... is caused by the Democrats,” he said.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota countered Cotton’s claims on Face the Nation, arguing that Feinstein sat on Ford’s allegation not to use it as a last-minute political weapon, but out of respect for Ford's wishes: “When she wrote the letter, she asked her congresswoman and Senator Feinstein for confidentiality, and that was why they hadn’t given it to the FBI.”

“There may have been better ways to handle this,” conceded Klobuchar, a Judiciary Committee member whose questions about drinking drew combative responses from Kavanaugh on Thursday. But she argued that the timing doesn’t mean the allegations can be dismissed out of hand. “Do you just sweep it under the rug and say, ‘Well, what happened in a house doesn’t belong in the courthouse’? No. You look at it. You don’t sweep it under the rug.”

Feinstein has denied that she or anyone on her staff leaked Ford’s letter to reporters. Although President Trump has not yet joined calls for an investigation of Democrats in this saga, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News Sunday that “the Democrats have exploited Dr. Ford.”

These arguments on the Sunday shows suggest that the GOP aims to turn Ford’s allegations against Democrats without criticizing Ford herself, portraying her as a sympathetic pawn deployed by liberals in a smear campaign when her account could have been heard and addressed confidentially. Ford, for her part, said during her testimony Thursday that she is a fiercely independent person and came forward only out of a sense of civic duty.  

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