Three named women have now accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of committing serious sexual misconduct as a young man. At Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, we will hear the testimony of only one of those three women.
And we will not be hearing from Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s high school friend, even though two of those women have also charged that Judge was an accomplice to Kavanaugh’s alleged misconduct.
This is because Republicans don’t want to hear from any of those additional people.
True, the hearing could end up having a good deal of value, depending on how it goes. It could give us a closer look at the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s. Her cross examination by prosecutor Rachel Mitchell — who was chosen to avoid the spectacle of a murderers’ row of scowling, hidebound Republican senators heaping disdain and condescension on Ford — could reveal that her memory of the general circumstances surrounding the alleged assault is worrisomely shaky, or it could showcase a tight memory of specific details that enhances her believability.
The hearing could reveal Kavanaugh to be either impressively emphatic or squirrely in his denials. It could showcase him being evasive about his general conduct at the time, which, when contrasted with the choirboy image he sought to project on Fox News, could further undermine his credibility. All these things could cut either for or against Kavanaugh.
But one thing we know right now is that this hearing has been constructed and circumscribed to prevent as full an accounting as possible from taking place — deliberately. The prepared opening statements from Kavanaugh and Ford capture this reality very well.
Kavanaugh’s opening statement
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh says this:
These are last-minute smears, pure and simple. They debase our public discourse. And the consequences extend beyond any one nomination. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.
This actually makes a strong case for, not against, a more robust effort to determine the truth than we will see today. Anyone concerned for the health of our discourse should want to vault this out of the realm of “he said, she said,” which is where it will inevitably remain mired, given that only Kavanaugh and Ford are testifying, and into a realm in which there is an outside, independent effort to gather as much information as possible.
Reopening Kavanaugh’s FBI background check would provide lawmakers with a wealth of such independently gathered information, which would enable them to better assess what they hear from Kavanaugh and Ford. The American public would also be in a better position to assess that competing testimony. It is obvious on its face that this would be better for our “discourse” than what we are now seeing. Today’s proceedings appear almost deliberately constructed to ensure that half the country believes the outcome of this confirmation battle — whatever it is — is deeply unjust.
Barring a reopened FBI background check, Republicans could subpoena Kavanaugh’s high school friend Judge, who according to Ford participated in the alleged assault. Michael Avenatti’s client Julia Swetnick has now claimed she witnessed repeated efforts by Judge and Kavanaugh to inebriate women so that they could be gang-raped. Judge could testify to — and be cross-examined about — all of this.
“Why is the administration refusing to allow Mark Judge to be subpoenaed?” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, asked in an interview with me. “He has knowledge about Brett Kavanaugh during that time of his life as well as the instances that have been raised by these credible allegations. He needs to be interviewed by the FBI and then before the Judiciary Committee.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has privately expressed similar reservations. Why aren’t we hearing from Judge?
What’s more, Judge’s college girlfriend Elizabeth Rasor is now prepared to speak to the FBI and the Judiciary Committee. Rasor told the New Yorker, in its piece about Deborah Ramirez, the second Kavanaugh accuser, that Judge confided in her about an episode — not necessarily involving Kavanaugh — in which he and others took turns having sex with a drunk woman. She could be asked about this — and about whether Judge confided in her about any of the episodes that Swetnick alleges, which do include Kavanaugh.
We will not be hearing from these additional people. It is obvious that it would be better for our “discourse” if we did. As for Kavanaugh’s worry about these claims dissuading “good people” from “serving our country,” a genuine, impartial fact-finding effort would buttress confidence that there is a workable process in place for clearing up such “character assassinations,” which might make “good people” more prone to public service, not less.
Ford’s opening statement
Now, on to Ford’s opening statement. In it, she recounts a wealth of details: She told her therapist about the alleged attack in 2012, adding: “My husband recalls that I named my attacker as Brett Kavanaugh.” She also says:
Over the years, I went through periods where I thought about Brett’s attack. I confided in some close friends that I had an experience with sexual assault. Occasionally I stated that my assailant was a prominent lawyer or judge, but I did not use his name. I do not recall each person I spoke to about Brett’s assault, and some friends have reminded me of these conversations …
A number of such people have said they are ready to testify to this. A serious fact-finding effort could gather testimony from all these people, under questioning from professional investigators. It might not bring us any closer to proving anything about Kavanaugh’s conduct. But it might enhance Ford’s credibility — or diminish it. We will not be getting any such effort.
Blumenthal points out still another problem: Each senator will have only five minutes to question Kavanaugh.
“He has been well prepared to filibuster,” Blumenthal said of Kavanaugh. “Do we cut him off and appear disrespectful? Or do we in effect allow him to squander our time?”
Blumenthal notes that one thing Democrats need to accomplish today is to reveal, in effect, the paucity of this current process, by demonstrating — through effective cross examination of Kavanaugh — the need for a professional effort to solicit testimony from more of these additional people. So doing, Blumenthal notes, could demonstrate the need for an “impartial, objective FBI investigation.”
Of course, it’s likely that nothing would be enough to get Trump and Republicans to agree to one, no matter how effectively that might be accomplished.
Update: The sentence on Swetnick’s claims about Kavanaugh and Judge has been slightly rewritten for accuracy.