In politics, you can often tell how weak someone’s hand is by the tortured arguments they make. And judging by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s defense on Tuesday of his fellow Judiciary Committee Republicans, the GOP isn’t holding much.
The committee is planning a Monday hearing featuring Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of a decades-old sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford. Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that they would be the only witnesses, and that has Democrats crying foul.
First on the list of people whose presence would seem important would be Mark Judge. He’s the other person Ford has said was in the room during the alleged assault 35 years ago. Judge is an alleged witness who has flatly denied Ford’s account. And yet, per Grassley, he won’t be there at the hearing.
When The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim asked Graham on Tuesday whether Judge should be called, the South Carolina Republican demurred.
“No reason to,” Graham responded. “He’s already said what he’s going to say. I want to hear from her, if she wants to speak, and I want to hear from him,” meaning Kavanaugh.
This — is not really how it works. Judge can deny Ford’s allegations all day long publicly and never be held legally accountable for his words. The only setting in which his denials must be accurate, at risk of jail time, is if he’s testifying — in a courtroom or to Congress. Getting him on the record and under oath would seem to be good as a matter of course and when it comes to bolstering Kavanaugh’s defense.
Indeed, this is the very point of holding hearings, and Graham knows it. He’s not just a U.S. senator, mind you, but also a former officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force. Just because a witness may not personally be in legal jeopardy doesn’t mean you don’t need him under oath. Judge could provide extremely important testimony.
On Monday, Republicans, including President Trump, took pains to show that they wanted to take Ford’s allegation seriously, rather than disregarding it to push their nominee through.
“We want to go through a process,” Trump said. “We want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right.”
Ruling out testimony from Judge would seem to give short shrift to the “process.” As would Grassley’s own defense of not having other witnesses testify, like they did during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings in the early 1990s: That this is about the future, not the past.
There may be reasons for Republicans not to want Judge taking the stand. Democrats would surely attack his credibility and character, given some of the things he has written. It might turn the hearing into more of a spectacle than Republicans want it to be and invite questions about whether other people at the party where Ford alleged the assault occurred should testify.
But those weren’t the reasons offered Tuesday by Graham. Instead, he suggested that the most important alleged witness of an alleged incident that could decide a Supreme Court confirmation isn’t worth putting under oath.
That’s a remarkable — and probably untenable — position for the GOP to take. And if this is the best defense it has of the process for dealing with Ford’s accusation, Kavanaugh’s nomination might be in more trouble than we realize.