Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

The 5 moments from the Kavanaugh hearing that have each side buzzing

September 28, 2018 at 10:12 AM

It was inevitable that in such a politicized hearing, there would be moments that riled the Republican and Democratic bases.

Most of the drama happened in the second half of Thursday’s Senate hearing, after Christine Blasey Ford testified she was “100 percent certain” that Judge M. Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school. A fiery Kavanaugh jacked up the emotional temperature of the room, and some senators on the dais felt as if they could let loose, too. Here are the most eyebrow-raising moments from the hearing that have each side’s base buzzing.

1. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham and “the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics”

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday delivered an impassioned rebuke of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Reuters)

The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim has covered Congress for years, and she says she has never seen a senator as angry as Graham got when it was his turn to speak.

Until then, Republican senators were handing over their time to Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to ask questions on their behalf. But Graham took his five minutes to unleash his frustration about Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault. Graham accused Democrats of orchestrating Ford’s allegation just in time to skin Kavanaugh’s nomination. And the senator warned his Republican colleagues who might vote against Kavanaugh: “If you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”

Graham has been criticized for calling Ford “the lady” and prejudging her before Thursday’s hearing. After Ford got a chance to talk, Graham said everything that Kavanaugh’s more careful defenders had been wanting to say but haven’t. Graham made it okay for Republicans to defend a man accused of sexual assault, and that immediately generated buzz on the right. The video really is something to behold.

2. Kavanaugh apologizes to a Democratic senator

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When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked Brett M. Kavanaugh on Thursday if he had ever experienced memory loss due to alcohol use, he asked her the same question but later apologized. (Reuters)

Some of Kavanaugh’s feistiest moments came when senators asked him about his drinking habits. None drilled in so much as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Kavanaugh has said he didn’t black out when drinking in high school and college; some of his classmates have disputed that account, and Klobuchar tried to press him on the disparity:

KLOBUCHAR: Drinking is one thing, but the concern is about truthfulness, and in your written testimony, you said sometimes you had too many drinks. Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn't remember what happened, or part of what happened the night before?"

KAVANAUGH: No, I -- no. I remember what happened, and I think you've probably had beers, Senator, and -- and so I...

KLOBUCHAR: So you're saying there's never been a case where you drank so much that you didn't remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened.

KAVANAUGH: It's -- you're asking about, you know, blackout. I don't know. Have you?

KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge? I just -- so you -- that's not happened. Is that your answer?

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I'm curious if you have.

KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, Judge.

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, nor do I.

At that point, the committee took a five-minute break. When it came back in session, Kavanaugh had the first word:

KAVANAUGH: Just going to say I started my last colloquy by saying to Senator Klobuchar how much I respect her and respected what she did at the last hearing. And she asked me a question at the end that I responded by asking her a question and I didn't -- sorry, I did that. This is a tough process. I'm sorry about that.

KLOBUCHAR: I appreciate that. I -- I would like to add, when you have a parent that’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking.

3. The Arizona prosecutor does NOT like the format

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Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, whom Senate Republicans chose to question Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday, criticized the hearing format for interviewing victims of trauma. "Would you believe me if I told you there's no study that says this setting in five-minute increments is the best way to do that?" (Reuters)

Five minutes for her to question Ford about dates, times, places. Five minutes for Democratic senators to slam Republicans and the process. Five more minutes for her to question Ford.

After four hours of this, the Arizona prosecutor Republicans brought on to ask questions of Ford was frustrated, especially after Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) brought up Rachel Mitchell’s own county manual for best practices for questioning sexual assault victims. What Mitchell said next read to some like an implicit criticism of Republicans, who set up this process, though it could also be a critique of Ford’s attorneys:

MITCHELL: Would you believe me if I told you that there’s no study that says that this setting in five-minute increments is the best way to do that?

She continued …

MITCHELL: Did you know that the best way to do it is to have a trained interviewer talk to you one-on-one in a private setting, and to let you do the talking, just let you do a narrative? Did you know that?

FORD: That makes a -- a lot of sense.

MITCHELL: It does make a lot of sense, doesn't it?

FORD: Yes.

MITCHELL: And then to follow up, obviously, to fill in the details and -- and ask for clarification. Does that make sense, as well?

FORD: Yes.

MITCHELL: And -- and the research is done by a lot of people in the child abuse field. Two of the more prominent ones in the sexual assault field are Geisel and Fisher, who’ve talked about it, and it’s called a cognitive interview. This is not a cognitive interview.

4. Why there’s no FBI investigation

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During Sen. Richard J. Durbin's (D-Ill.) questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, he asked whether Kavanaugh would want the FBI to investigate the accusations. (Reuters)

Democrats, Ford and Kavanaugh’s two other accusers want an FBI investigation. It probably wouldn’t determine who’s right or wrong, but investigators could question alleged witnesses — such as those who say they don’t remember the incident but don’t outright deny it happened — under the threat of jail time for lying.

Republicans have refused, and that leaves Kavanaugh in the middle. Democrats tried to press him on why he wouldn’t want an FBI investigation if he’s innocent. Here’s a heated exchange with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) about that:

DURBIN: Judge Kavanaugh, will you support an FBI investigation...

KAVANAUGH: ... I'll do -- I'll...

DURBIN: ... right now?

KAVANAUGH: ... I -- I will do whatever the committee wants to...

DURBIN: Personally, do you think that's the best thing for us to do? You won't answer?

KAVANAUGH: ... Look, senator, I -- I’ve -- I’ve -- I’ve said I wanted a hearing and I’d said I was welcome ... anything. I’m innocent. This thing was held -- held when it could have been presented in the ordinary way. It could have been held and handled confidentially at first, which was what Dr. Ford’s wishes were as I understand it. It wouldn’t have caused this -- like, destroyed my family like this -- this effort has.

Of course, the problem for Kavanaugh is that if he were to say he wants an FBI investigation, he'd be directly challenging his Republican allies on the committee, who hold his fate in their hands.

5. Beer and flatulence

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Thursday questioned Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh about the language in his high school yearbook entry. (Reuters)

"I like beer.” Kavanaugh said that a lot in the hearing. It was his frustrated way of defending himself from reports he drank to excess in high school and college. The message: It’s not unusual for teenage boys to drink.

Things escalated in one exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), where Kavanaugh lost some of his composure:

KAVANAUGH: I like beer. I like beer. I don't know if you do...

WHITEHOUSE: Okay.

KAVANAUGH: ... do you like beer, Senator, or not?

WHITEHOUSE: Um, next...

KAVANAUGH: What do you like to drink?

The next question was about Kavanaugh’s use of the word “boof” on his calendar from the summer of 1982, which encapsulated the surrealness of the entire hearing. Whitehouse started by asking Kavanaugh about the slang word, noting he also put in his yearbook. (How Kavanaugh referred to a female friend in his yearbook is at issue.)

Kavanaugh claimed it was a reference to farts. Whitehouse was skeptical; “boof” to some can also be a slang word for sexual intercourse.

WHITEHOUSE: Judge, have you -- I don't know if it's "boufed" or "boofed" -- how do you pronounce that?

KAVANAUGH: That refers to flatulence. We were 16.

WHITEHOUSE: Okay. And so when your friend Mark Judge said the same -- put the same thing in his yearbook page back to you, he had the same meaning? It was flatulence?

KAVANAUGH: I don’t know what he did, but that’s my recollection. We want to talk about flatulence at age 16 on a yearbook page, I’m -- I’m game.

“I don’t believe ‘boof’ is flatulence,” Whitehouse said Friday morning.

What Whitehouse was trying to ascertain — and Kavanaugh was trying to push back on — is a central question in Kavanaugh’s defense: How much of his past behavior constituted normal, teenage-boy behavior, and how much of it did not?

The answer is central to Kavanaugh’s credibility. And at least judging by the 21 senators at the hearing, that answer is in the eye of the (partisan) beholder.


Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.

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