In a process already saturated with cynicism and soured by bad faith, it would be shameful but unsurprising if an FBI investigation aimed at shedding light on Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh became the object of political manipulation.
The probe is happening because Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska grasped how hypocritical it would be for their party to claim to take Ford’s heartfelt and credible testimony seriously and then barrel to a confirmation anyway.
But the FBI may be blocked from doing its job properly. Will it be able to provide a basis for judging the relative trustworthiness of the only two witnesses who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week?
An investigation sharply constrained by White House Counsel Donald McGahn — who is overseeing the FBI’s work and just happened to be Kavanaugh’s leading promoter — would turn a brief moment of limited bipartisanship into a new occasion for rage and recrimination.
The good news is that the investigation offers time for one important reality to sink in: It is simply not true, as was so often claimed, that both witnesses were equally “believable.”
Ford answered every question she was asked and without pretense. Her candor about what she could not recall added immensely to her credibility.
By contrast, as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) noted on Friday, Kavanaugh’s “testimony and claims regarding his drinking habits and behavior in high school and college [and] beyond have been contradicted by so many people. His statements have just proven to be not true.”
Every undecided senator should read Philip Bump’s extensive fact check in The Post flagging answers Kavanaugh gave that “stretched or misrepresented the truth.” Then, the senators should turn to the New York Times’ equally comprehensive analysis describing responses Kavanaugh gave that were “misleading, disputed or off point.”
And they can examine a very helpful graph created by Alvin Chang at Vox. It uses bright colors to chart the comparative responsiveness of the two witnesses. Where they answered directly, the graph showed blue; where they dodged a question or refused to answer, it showed magenta. Ford’s chart is a sea of blue; Kavanaugh’s is replete with evasive magenta.
Thus, expecting the FBI to look into the veracity of what Kavanaugh said about his level of drinking does not reflect a desire to demonize people who like beer as much as Kavanaugh says he does. Rather, his level of drinking in those days has a direct relationship to the charges in question — and also on his truthfulness.
The same concerns arise in judging his hard-to-believe attempt to sanitize a high school yearbook entry that he acknowledged was unfortunate. It bears on his attitude toward women at the time, and, again, his honesty.
There were also Kavanaugh’s repeated claims, as he put it at one point, that “all four witnesses who are alleged to be at the event said it didn’t happen.” No, they did not say that. They said, in various ways, that they didn’t remember it. At the least, the FBI should be able to test their memories.
And if the undecided senators are still unable to make up their minds at the end of whatever sort of probe the FBI is allowed to conduct, they should think hard about this passage in Kavanaugh’s prepared remarks:
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
No matter how much you want to understand Kavanaugh’s anger, this screed disqualifies him from the Supreme Court. Can any litigant on an issue with any bearing on election outcomes — voting rights, the financing of campaigns, gerrymandering — possibly think Kavanaugh can be fair-minded? Can any “left-wing” group, especially one bringing suit against Trump, expect a fair hearing?
“It’s astonishing that a nominee himself is politicizing the court,” said Rudy Mehrbani, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Ordinarily, the threat is from political candidates.” Yes, and this tells us something.
Last week’s hearing did not settle the core issue that the FBI is being asked to examine further. But, we learned a great deal about the character of two people.
Admiration for Ford’s courage, her meticulousness and her grace was nearly universal. Kavanaugh’s anger while beating back rather than answering key questions won praise from the White House and most Republicans. For just about everyone else, it was anything but reassuring behavior from a man who could serve on the Supreme Court for decades.