The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion So many lies, so little time to investigate

Brett M. Kavanaugh's truthfulness must be credibly vetted. (Video: The Washington Post)

During their joint appearance Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) were asked if  Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be over if he “is shown to have lied to the committee?”

“Oh, yes,” said Flake. “I would think so,” Coons added.

That’s refreshing, because for a moment (well, for several days) Republicans seemed to be saying that no matter what Kavanaugh said under oath (e.g., vowing revenge against Democrats, lying about drinking), he would get confirmed. Nothing short of a confession or video tape of the assault was likely to shake the confidence of partisan thespians such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

Now — gasp! — Flake is demanding a real investigation, not a kabuki exercise solely to ensure Kavanaugh gets through. “I am talking to the White House counsel to make sure it’s a full investigation of all credible accusations. A fulsome investigation, not just cover,” he said in an appearance in Boston. “I just got off the phone with the White House 10 minutes ago to tell them to make sure it’s a real investigation.” We are in a strange place where the president promises to conduct an investigation and a member of his own party feels the need to say, in effect, “Not a fake one.”

Senatorial sticklers for telling the truth under oath and Kavanaugh’s old friends and acquaintances who say he misrepresented his drinking habits have drawn new attention to what Democrats claim is a pattern of lies from the nominee — from his involvement in controversial actions in the George W. Bush administration to ridiculous assertions about slang in his high-school yearbook

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Former FBI director James B. Comey now has weighed in with an op-ed, arguing, “Yes, the alleged incident occurred 36 years ago. But F.B.I. agents know time has very little to do with memory. They know every married person remembers the weather on their wedding day, no matter how long ago. Significance drives memory.” He adds, “They also know that little lies point to bigger lies. They know that obvious lies by the nominee about the meaning of words in a yearbook are a flashing signal to dig deeper.” Comey concludes, “Agents can just do their work. Find facts. Speak truth to power. Despite all the lies and all the attacks, there really are people who just want to figure out what’s true. The F.B.I. is full of them.”

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh adamantly denied Christine Blasey Ford's allegation of sexual assault before the Senate Judicary Committee on Sept. 27. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

This doesn’t mean that if Kavanaugh lied under oath about his drinking or the meaning of yearbook entries that he necessarily sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. (One could imagine he thought it would look like he did.) It means he lied under oath. Period. And that’s enough, say Coons and Flake, to knock him out of contention for a lifetime spot on the Supreme Court.

We’ve become so accustomed to casual lying (Trump has racked up more than 5,000 lies in office, according to The Post’s Glenn Kessler) and “alternative facts” that many of us have come to believe lying does not really matter in public life. How refreshing that two senators are reminding us you cannot avoid accountability for lies under oath if you want to sit on the Supreme Court. Really, is this such an impossible standard for us to crawl over? We’ve sunk so deep into the ethical goo that it’s hard to remember this was once a proposition no serious politician would ever dispute. The problem, we are learning, is that we have only a few serious senators.

Let’s hope that if the truth-seekers, in this case FBI agents, are hamstrung, FBI Director Christopher A.  Wray will say so and the Senate will not confirm. Let’s pray that if Kavanaugh deliberately misled the Senate, Flake and Coons’s 98 colleagues would agree to vote against him, the D.C. Bar would take appropriate action and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit would conduct an investigation. Just because voters elected a congenital liar to be president doesn’t mean they or their representatives have to accept one on the Supreme Court.