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Kavanaugh’s ‘choir boy’ image on Fox interview rankles former Yale classmates

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sat down for his first TV interview since facing allegations of sexual misconduct. Here are some highlights. (Video: Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

On Monday night, Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh said in a nationally televised interview that in his younger years, he was focused on sports, academics and “service projects.” But it was his comments about drinking that rankled some Yale University classmates, prompting them to speak out for the first time.

Liz Swisher, who described herself as a friend of Kavanaugh in college, said she was shocked that — in an interview focused largely on his high school years and allegations of sexual misconduct — he strongly denied drinking to the point of blacking out.

“Brett was a sloppy drunk, and I know because I drank with him. I watched him drink more than a lot of people. He’d end up slurring his words, stumbling,” said Swisher, a Democrat and chief of the gynecologic oncology division at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “There’s no medical way I can say that he was blacked out. . . . But it’s not credible for him to say that he has had no memory lapses in the nights that he drank to excess.”

Lynne Brookes, who like Swisher was a college roommate of one of the two women now accusing Kavanaugh of misconduct, said the nominee’s comments on Fox did not match the classmate she remembered.

“He’s trying to paint himself as some kind of choir boy,” said Brookes, a Republican and former pharmaceutical executive who recalled an encounter with a drunken Kavanaugh at a fraternity event. “You can’t lie your way onto the Supreme Court, and with that statement out, he’s gone too far. It’s about the integrity of that institution.”

Kavanaugh’s credibility will be tested this week as the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear sworn testimony from him and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who alleges that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers decades ago and he was, in her words, “stumbling drunk.” As Thursday’s hearing approached, three Yale Law School classmates who had endorsed Kavanaugh called for an investigation into her claims and those of the other woman, and Yale Law professor Akhil Amar — who taught Kavanaugh and testified on his behalf before the committee — called for a probe into what he described as “serious accusations.”

With two women accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, Republicans are struggling to find a path forward to his confirmation. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The committee will have to weigh Ford’s credibility against Kavanaugh’s — and, to a degree, consider whether Kavanaugh drank to excess, as the pages of his high school yearbook suggest, or was the focused academic and athlete described by supporters and in his Fox interview.

Chrstine Blasey Ford, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

In an extraordinary move, Kavanaugh made his case on the conservative cable television network Monday night. The interview was remarkable for its personal nature. At one point, Kavanaugh volunteered that he had remained a virgin for “many years” after high school.

Kavanaugh reiterated his unequivocal denials that he sexually assaulted Ford and that he exposed himself to Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, as she contended in a story published Sunday in the New Yorker.

“I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect,” he told Fox.

Kavanaugh described his younger self as a churchgoer who indulged in some beer-drinking — but never to the point of blacking out.

At one point, after he acknowledged that “people” do things in high school that later cause them to “regret or cringe,” Fox host Martha MacCallum asked: “Were there times when perhaps you drank so much — was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened the night before?”

“No, that never happened,” Kavanaugh said.

MacCallum asked again: “You never said to anyone, ‘I don’t remember anything about last night.’ ”

“No, that did not happen,” Kavanaugh said.

On Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said: “This is getting absurd. No one has claimed Judge Kavanaugh didn’t drink in high school or college.” She pointed to the Fox interview where Kavanaugh said of youthful drinking: “That’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about an allegation of sexual assault. I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

Alexandra Walsh, a lawyer for Kavanaugh, declined to comment other than to point to the White House statement.

Some friends of Kavanaugh from high school and college disputed the notion that his drinking was out of control.

“Drinking was prevalent in high school, but some guys handled it better than others, and Brett always maintained his composure,” said Tom Kane, a close friend who met Kavanaugh when the two entered Georgetown Prep in 1979. “He was not a stumbling drunk. He was never all that interested in getting wasted.”

Chris Dudley, who played basketball for Yale and later went on to a career in the NBA, said he considers Kavanaugh a great friend who is being unfairly maligned.

“I went out with him all the time. He never blacked out. Never even close to blacked out,” said Dudley, a 2010 Republican candidate for governor of Oregon. “There was drinking, and there was alcohol. Brett drank, and I drank. Did he get inebriated sometimes? Yes. Did I? Yes. Just like every other college kid in America.”

Swisher, who lived with Ramirez for three years in college, could not recall a specific instance in which Kavanaugh acknowledged that he could not remember the events of the previous night.

But Brookes, Ramirez’s roommate for a year, said she was present one night when Kavanaugh participated in an event with his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon. Brookes said she believes there was “no way” he remembered all of the behavior she observed that night, when fraternity brothers pushed pledges to get “ridiculously drunk” and do “ridiculous things.”

Brookes said she remembers seeing Kavanaugh outside the Sterling Memorial Library, wearing a superhero cape and an old leather football helmet and swaying, working to keep his balance.

He was ordered to hop on one foot, grab his crotch and approach her with a rhyme, Brookes said. He couldn’t keep balanced, she said, but belted out the rhyme she’s remembered to this day: “I’m a geek, I’m a geek, I’m a power tool. When I sing this song, I look like a fool.”

“It’s a funny, drunk college story that you remember — at least, I remember,” Brookes said. As she tracked his career over the years, and his rise in the federal court system, she said, “I thought it was so funny to think that’s the Brett who sang that song.”

The Post contacted Brookes and Swisher last week because they lived with Ramirez at different points during their undergraduate years. Neither returned calls or emails until Tuesday. Ramirez previously told neither of them about her allegation — she accuses him of exposing himself to her while both were drunk at a party — but Brookes and Swisher said they believe her account.

Years before his Supreme Court nomination, Kavanaugh acknowledged heavy drinking in a 2014 speech to the Yale Federalist Society. He recalled organizing a boozy trip for 30 of his Yale Law classmates to Boston for a baseball game and a night of barhopping, complete with “group chugs from a keg” and a return to campus by “falling out of the bus onto the steps of Yale Law School at about 4:45 a.m.”

According to his scripted remarks, he said: “Fortunately for all of us, we had a motto. What happens on the bus stays on the bus.”

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Another former classmate who has publicly supported Ramirez, James Roche, said Kavanaugh frequently drank to the point of incoherence. “He hung out with the football players and soccer players, and they drank a lot and were bros,” Roche, who briefly shared a room with Kavanaugh during their freshman year, said in an interview this month. In a statement Monday night, after the Fox interview, Roche described Kavanaugh as a “notably heavy drinker” who “became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk.”

Meanwhile, three Yale classmates who along with others endorsed Kavanaugh last month in a letter to the Judiciary Committee called Tuesday for an investigation into the sexual assault claims.

“The confirmation process should be conducted in a way that fosters trust in the process and the Supreme Court, and that seriously considers allegations of sexual violence,” Kent Sinclair, a political independent who practices law in Beverly, Mass., and Douglas Rutzen, a lawyer in Washington and registered Democrat, said in a joint statement.

Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said in an interview that “the focus can’t just be on the accusers and trying to bring their veracity into question. The circumstances need to be probed.”

Amar, the professor, wrote Monday in the Yale Daily News that a probe would be the “best way forward.”

“If the investigation’s facts and findings support him, then he will join the Court in the sunshine and not under a cloud,” he wrote.

Kavanaugh hinted at his drinking in his 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook entry. He identified himself as the “biggest contributor” to the Beach Week Ralph Club, an apparent reference to vomiting, and treasurer of the Keg City Club. “100 Kegs or Bust,” his entry says, referring to a campaign by his friends to empty 100 kegs of beer during their senior year.

The entry also made several references to women, including identifying Kavanaugh as a “Renate Alumnius.” The New York Times reported Monday that the phrase, also contained in other boys’ yearbook entries, was a reference to boasts of their alleged conquests involving a female student named Renate Schroeder from another high school.

“They were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate,” Georgetown Prep graduate Sean Hagan told The Times. “I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.”

Walsh, Kavanaugh’s lawyer, told the Times that the nominee was friends with the woman, now Renate Dolphin, “admired her very much then, and he admires her to this day.” Walsh said the yearbook entry referred to a kiss they had shared after a high school event.

Dolphin did not respond to requests for comment. She told the Times she had never kissed Kavanaugh.

“I learned about these yearbook pages only a few days ago,” Dolphin told the Times. “I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”

Alice Crites, Beth Reinhard, Elise Viebeck and Julie Tate contributed to this report.