President Trump’s modus operandi in cases in which he or others are accused of sexual assault or harassment is “deny, deny, deny,” Bob Woodward reported in his new book “Fear.” As a dutiful and increasingly political appointee following Trump’s advice, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh has taken this to an extreme.
He denies knowing research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford as a teenager or repeatedly drinking to excess. (Just a few beers, declared the Georgetown Prep alumni whose yearbook was filled with drinking references.) Since age 14 (!) he has fought for women, says the man who listed himself in his high school yearbook as a “Renate Alumnius” (along with a dozen other boys), which appears to be an innuendo suggesting that he had sex with this girl. (His excuse that he identified himself as a “Renate Alumni” because they once went on a date and kissed — she denies the kiss — is undercut by all the other boys who used the same obnoxious reference.) The fighter for feminism since he was a teen nevertheless joined a Yale fraternity infamous for its misogynistic chant. His self-image doesn’t match other available evidence.
None of the actions themselves would be grounds for disqualifying Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. A simple acknowledgement –“I’m embarrassed what a jerk I was in my teens” — would have gone such a long way in reaffirming his credibility and decency. That was not the road he chose. The danger here is that readily available evidence contradicting these remarkable assertions will undermine his credibility and disqualify him for the Supreme Court.
We’ve already seen a pattern of, shall we say, excessive denial in his testimony under oath.
While he considered former judge Alex Kozinski a mentor and close friend, he somehow cannot recall (which differs from “denies”) being included on email chains with clerks that contained crude sexual jokes. Another former Kozinski clerk Heidi Bond writes:
Kozinski’s email list had hundreds of participants, and some of the jokes he shared were incredibly off-color. …
Kavanaugh’s relationship with Kozinski started as a judge-clerk relationship—a relationship that Kozinski describes as “the most intense and mutually dependent one outside of marriage, parenthood, or a love affair.” In that same article, which Kavanaugh has approvingly referenced, Kozinski states that “[j]udge and law clerk are tethered by an invisible cord for the rest of their mutual careers.” Over the years, that invisible cord has been short for Kozinski and Kavanaugh. They have sat on panels together and co-authored books. …
I did not have as strong a relationship with Kozinski. But having clerked in his chambers, I do not know how it would be possible to forget something as pervasive as Kozinski’s famously sexual sense of humor or his gag list, as Kavanaugh has professed to in his hearings.
Likewise, his continual denial of participation in the confirmation proceedings of Charles Pickering did not live up to the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” standard we’d expect of a federal judge. My colleague Glenn Kessler’s fact check found: “His work on this nomination went substantially beyond the blanket responses Kavanaugh gave to [Sen. Richard J.] Durbin’s written questions in 2004, when he disclosed that he participated in meetings and discussions about Pickering and 18 other nominees.”
In the same vein, his insistence that he had no clue as a lawyer during the George W. Bush administration that information he received from a GOP operative was purloined from Democrats strains credulity:
These claims defy logic. An elite Republican lawyer who was immersed at the time in Washington’s inside baseball, Kavanaugh strains credulity by claiming this extraordinary window he had into Democrats’ thinking seemed aboveboard. He received a steady stream of insider information over nine months from Miranda, according to the documents available. It reminds us of Sergeant Schultz in the 1960s TV show “Hogan’s Heroes” — “I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know nothing!” … The best-case scenario is that Kavanaugh, who is up for a seat on the nation’s highest court, has a glaring lack of curiosity or a superficial level of discernment. The worst-case scenario is that he has been feigning ignorance since his first confirmation hearing in the Senate in April 2004, which was held after the Senate sergeant-at-arms had released his report documenting Miranda’s serial theft.
Kavanaugh, it seems, cannot acknowledge error or imperfection. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members, he decried those who would question his virtue. (“I have devoted my career to serving the public and the cause of justice, and particularly to promoting the equality and dignity of women. Women from every phase of my life have come forward to attest to my character.”)
He has led a charmed life, filled with accomplishments and praise, so it’s not surprising he thinks of himself as a tower of integrity and moral probity. He thinks of himself not as the crude teen who drank to excess but as the kid who studied, played sports and went to church — as if these activities make it impossible for him to have also been a bit of a lout.
Quite aside from whether he sexually assaulted Ford, his refusal to concede small misdeeds should disturb us. Extremely accomplished people can be averse to any admission of error; their self-image demands they maintain a pristine image, even when the facts reveal all-too-human faults. However, not all high achievers are necessarily fit for the Supreme Court. That role requires self-awareness and humility.
Call it lack of candor or lack of self-reflection, but a judge who thinks of himself as beyond criticism and cannot muster the honesty to accept blame for anything shouldn’t be on the highest court. If we learned anything from electing an unfit, amoral president, it is that character matters most of all in public officials. Kavanaugh simply isn’t the personality type to entrust with our most daunting constitutional issues.
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