Dianne Feinstein Rode One Court Fight to the Senate. Another Has Left Her Under Siege.

But as Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings barreled ahead, and speculation about the letter began to spread across Capitol Hill, the calculus changed. Under pressure from other Democratic senators on the committee, several of whom felt any serious allegation must be publicized, Ms. Feinstein called a meeting on Sept. 12 to brief them on its contents for the first time.

After redacting Dr. Blasey’s name, she sent it to the F.B.I. that night, and issued her cryptic statement the next day acknowledging publicly for the first time that she had received “information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.” Within hours, news outlets, including The Times, reported the broad outlines of its contents. On Sunday, Dr. Blasey identified herself to The Washington Post.

Some committee Democrats privately vented that Ms. Feinstein should have found a way forward earlier with a potentially nomination-changing accusation. But in the days since the accusation became public, Democrats have closed ranks.

“Senator Feinstein faced a choice that none of us would want to, and I think she handled it responsibly,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the panel. “What was Senator Feinstein to do at this point, ignore her request, make it public to the embarrassment of her and her family?”

Outside of written statements, Ms. Feinstein has done little to defend her thinking. And the senator has only muddled her own case when speaking with reporters this week — sometimes despite reminders from staff members that she need not answer questions.

When, for example, one reporter asked Ms. Feinstein as she entered the Senate on Monday evening if she had had any discussions with Dr. Blasey after receiving the letter, the senator could not recall.

“I’ll have to look back,” she said. “I don’t know right now.”

Then she walked out of reach.

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