Rarely have I been so happy to be so wrong.
After a grueling day of hearings Thursday on the adolescence of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, I thought there was no way the solution I had hoped for – pausing the process to investigate sexual assault allegations against him – would ever happen. Republicans were justifiably furious that Democrats had turned what should have been a confidential background investigation into an 11th-hour public extravaganza. In the Republicans’ rage, they seemed determined to ram the nomination through as fast as possible.
Then early on Friday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) walked into the Judiciary Committee and made an announcement. “I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to, but not more than, one week, to let the FBI continue to do an investigation limited in time and scope to the current allegations. I will vote to advance the bill to the floor with that understanding.”
Was his mind changed by Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), whose relatively moderate and collegial approach lent credibility to his case for delay? Or by his late-night huddle with other swing senators – Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.)? Was it the impassioned pleas of sexual assault survivors who accosted Flake in a Senate elevator?
We may never know. What we do know is that Flake has bought the country some time to find a way out of the wretched impasse. Now the question is what to do with it.
Start by outlining the avenues available to FBI background investigators, whom President Trump authorized late Friday afternoon to reopen Kavanaugh’s file. While Ford’s testimony is light on details, and Kavanaugh’s denials didn’t add much in the way of leads, Thursday’s hearing did suggest some places to look.
Ford named three other people from the party where Kavanaugh allegedly attempted to rape her during high school: Mark Judge, “PJ,” whom we now know is Patrick J. Smyth, and Leland Keyser. All should be interviewed.
Ford doesn’t know where the party was but said she could draw the floor plan of the house. That floor plan should be compared with those of the houses where the named witnesses lived. Ford should also undergo what Rachel Mitchell, the sex-crimes prosecutor who questioned her, called a “forensic interview” to obtain as complete an account as possible.
The left is now suggesting that the July 1 entry from Kavanaugh’s 1982 calendar – “Go to Timmy’s for skis w/Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi” – might document the alleged party. The people in that group who had not previously been identified by Ford should be interviewed.
Members of Ford’s family, who have been silent so far, should be interviewed. Does anyone recall driving her home that night, or recall any sudden changes in her that summer?
Investigators should try to narrow down the timeline by ascertaining Judge’s employment dates at a nearby Safeway supermarket, where Ford says she saw him soon after the attack.
Deborah Ramirez, who claims that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during their freshman year at Yale, and Julie Swetnick, who claims that she regularly saw Kavanaugh and Judge at parties where gang rapes occurred, should also undergo forensic interviews.
It’s a big task, and the FBI should be given whatever it needs. And then, if no further corroborative evidence emerges, Democrats should gracefully accede to a confirmation vote.
Republicans would call this utopian. They say Democrats will continue manipulating the process to make confirming a nominee impossible before the midterms, when they hope to retake the Senate. Demands for an FBI investigation were simply a Democratic stalling tactic, according to Republicans, who assume that Democrats will reject any findings that don’t turn up more dirt and will search for more unfalsifiable accusers from Kavanaugh’s distant past.
They’re right, of course. The process has already started; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pointed out during the hearing Thursday that FBI background checks don’t reach conclusions. Nonetheless, the FBI investigation helps Republicans because they have neutered the most powerful Democratic talking point. And protected their own party against blowback.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed and Democrats regain control of the House, as now looks likely, expect them to open investigations into him — and if they control the Senate, possibly even impeach him from either the Supreme Court or his current slot on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court. But if there is dirt to be flung at him, better to have it flung now, while Republicans still have time to nominate someone else before a new Senate forms in January. Better morally, and electorally.
Moderates may be scarcer during these partisan times, but those people still swing elections. The best place to court them is from the moral high ground, and thanks to Jeff Flake, for the moment Republicans have captured it.