How much evidence is required to destroy a person’s life?
Christine Blasey Ford has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of attempted rape while they were both in high school — a charge he unequivocally denies. She can’t remember the date the alleged attack took place. She isn’t even certain about the year (although she reportedly thinks it may have been the summer around the end of her sophomore year when she was 15). She can’t remember whose house she was in. She can’t remember how she got there. She says she didn’t tell anyone about it at the time, not even her closest friends — so there are no contemporaneous witnesses to back her claims.
No other women have come forward to say that the young Kavanaugh assaulted them. There is no pattern of bad behavior. Quite the contrary, by all accounts other than Ford’s, he treats women with respect in his personal and professional life. (Full disclosure: I worked with Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush White House.) The gathering included just Ford and four others, according to her confidential letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). One man named by Ford as a witness has come forward and not only denied knowledge of the assault but also denied knowledge of the gathering in question. Another, who said he was the “PJ” mentioned in the letter, Patrick J. Smyth, has also denied being at a gathering like the one Ford described.
Ford deserves to be treated with dignity, not maligned or attacked. But let’s not forget that Kavanaugh is human too. This ordeal affects not only him but also his family, including his two young daughters, who are hearing awful things said about the father they love. He cannot prove a negative. So far, there are accusations but no corroborating evidence. And accusations without evidence cannot be the standard by which a man’s reputation and career are ruined.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford have been ill-served by Senate Democrats in this process. Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, knew about Ford’s accusation for about six weeks and did nothing. She never asked Kavanaugh about the allegations in private or in public. She did not use the confidential, bipartisan process that the Judiciary Committee uses every day to assess the credibility of allegations against hundreds of judicial nominees — which would have given Ford the chance to talk to the committee’s professional investigators in a confidential setting. Bizarrely, to this day Feinstein has not shared a copy of Ford’s unredacted letter with Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). But Democrats appear not to have been too scrupulous when it came to protecting her confidentiality.
Ford has also been ill-served by her lawyers, who initially stated that Ford “will agree to participate in any proceedings that she’s asked to participate in.” Then, when Grassley canceled the vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination and scheduled a hearing where she could testify in public or private, her lawyers started echoing Senate Democrats’ new message that a full FBI investigation was needed before she would speak to the committee — undermining the perception of Ford’s independence. (At this writing, she has reversed course yet again, with her lawyer now saying she might be willing to testify next week).
It’s not the FBI’s job to investigate. There is no federal crime alleged. As Grassley explained in a letter, “We have no power to commandeer an executive branch agency into conducting our due diligence.” Senate Democrats know this. They have turned down Grassley’s offer to participate in interviews of Kavanaugh, Ford and other alleged witnesses. They are using Ford to demand an FBI investigation in the hope they can use it to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation until after Election Day — when Democrats hope to take back the Senate and block him from joining the Supreme Court.
The #MeToo movement is a force for good in society. It has removed sexual predators from the workplace in politics, media, entertainment, religion and elsewhere. It has encouraged women and men who have been abused to speak up — and others to support their allegations. But allegations alone are not enough. There must be evidence. With the evidence available right now, there is no chance Kavanaugh would be convicted in a court of law. Indeed, no reasonable prosecutor would agree to bring a case. But in the court of public opinion, the standards of evidence seem to be much lower. This much is certain: The standard of evidence to ruin a man’s reputation cannot be zero.