Now that Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser has gone public with her story that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were teenagers, the White House and Republicans have signaled that they plan to aggressively undercut her credibility, a strategy that some conservatives have already launched.
You would think that this alone should obligate Republicans to invite Christine Blasey Ford to testify, publicly, before the Senate Judiciary Committee — before there is any vote. This would afford her a chance to defend her own recollections and character — that is, in direct, face-to-face response to the hostile questioning and extreme skepticism of Republicans, which they would no doubt throw at her if this does happen.
Bloomberg reports this morning that President Trump’s team plans to “try to discredit the charges for surfacing late in the confirmation process and to question the credibility of the accuser because she didn’t tell anybody about the incident at the time.”
Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee Republicans put out a statement claiming that the “disturbing” timing of the allegations raises “questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives,” suggesting Ford’s story is the reflection of Democratic dirty tricks. Some prominent conservatives suggested that the charges are orchestrated by Democrats.
On CNN today, Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, confirmed that Ford would be willing to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee. Katz also noted that the committee has not asked her client to do this.
Trump allies and Republicans professing doubt about Ford’s story should want this to happen. If it doesn’t, the question will be: Why don’t they want her to tell her story in a setting that would enable the American people to assess it — and her credibility — for themselves, and give these Republicans the opportunity to demonstrate to the country that their skepticism of her story — and of her credibility — is warranted?
Ford opens up for the first time
In her first extensive interview about the alleged incident, Ford told The Post that in the 1980s, a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh pinned her down, groped and grinded against her, tried to pull off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth when she attempted to scream. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, who is now a research psychologist. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Ford had previously written a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) outlining the story, and said she made the difficult decision to tell it publicly after it was widely misrepresented in the press. She said she discussed the incident during couples therapy in 2012 and provided notes from the therapist. While those notes did not directly mention Kavanaugh, Ford’s husband told The Post that she did raise Kavanaugh in those sessions and the notes do show Ford referred to students “from an elitist boys’ school” who had become “high-ranking members of society in Washington.”
This would seem to lend the story a fair amount of credibility, though it does not make it a total slam dunk. It is possible that either the episode did not happen at all and she told her therapist six years ago that it did — mistakenly or otherwise. Or maybe someone else carried out the act, and she told her therapist six years ago that it was Kavanaugh. Or perhaps she didn’t actually tell her therapist it was Kavanaugh and she and her husband are collaborating in a grand deception scheme to retroactively recast this episode — and the subsequent therapy session — to place Kavanaugh at the center of it.
Republicans suggest the timing of the allegation is a dirty trick. But if so, Ford’s role in the plot would have to be pretty elaborate. In addition to that retroactive recasting of six-year-old and more-than-30-year-old episodes, Ford would also have written a letter to a Democratic lawmaker suggesting a desire to remain anonymous while actually expecting to go public later. It’s possible that she hoped to derail Kavanaugh while remaining anonymous but then realized it might not work without going public. But these alternative explanations seem strained to varying degrees, and as such, no one can claim in good faith that this affair doesn’t demand more serious investigative treatment.
Indeed, as David French writes in a fair assessment, it can both be be true that her story is not yet solid enough to take to the bank and that a serious examination of the facts going forward would get us closer to the truth.
This is made more imperative by the fact that Kavanaugh is flatly denying that the episode ever happened. (In his favor, the boy who Ford claims was with him also now denies that it took place.) This is not the same as arguing that either something happened but that Kavanaugh recollects it as much less serious, or that there was such an episode, but that given Kavanaugh’s tender years, it should not be disqualifying right now.
Rather, Kavanaugh, is, in effect, saying Ford made the whole thing up. Given (as noted) that this would require an elaborate chain of circumstances to be true — and that the White House and Republicans are going to publicly assault her credibility — this necessitates hearing from Ford herself in a public setting, in which she is confronted by — and can directly respond to — this sort of skeptical and even hostile questioning.
Public hearing would be good for the country
The #MeToo movement has forced us all to grapple with the unspeakable abuses that women have been forced to endure out of public view for far too long — and with the ways in which intense societal pressures long compelled their silence, giving them no recourse or outlet for their grievances to be heard. As Rebecca Traister says, women have had to swallow their rage while building their lives around this reality forever, but now that the “anger window is open,” there’s no closing it again.
When Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, this forced the country to grapple in a similarly new way with that phenomenon, which was only just gaining serious public acknowledgment, emboldening more women to speak out. This didn’t derail Thomas’s nomination, and indeed, since then senators have at least been able to argue that the allegations against him were seriously examined.
A public hearing for Ford could do for #MeToo what the Hill hearings did for sexual harassment, emboldening more women to do what Ford herself claims she hesitated to do for far too long. And at a time when women are running for office in record numbers to register their anger at a president who openly boasted about committing sexual assault with impunity — signaling not just a political but a real cultural shift as well — do senators really want to be on record failing to seriously examine the alleged abuses suffered by Ford, and worse, denying her the opportunity to speak in this setting to the country about them herself?