All week, as the country debated Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, a hopeful rumor grew in conservative circles that a close friend of the Supreme Court nominee had obtained irrefutable proof of his innocence.
The friend was Ed Whelan, a National Review legal writer who is held in high esteem by Kavanaugh’s allies, and in fact has been advising the federal judge as he seeks Senate confirmation to the high court.
“By one week from today, I expect that Judge Kavanaugh will have been clearly vindicated on this matter,” Whelan tweeted cryptically on Tuesday. “Specifically, I expect that compelling evidence will show his categorical denial to be truthful.”
Whelan kept hinting at exculpatory evidence in subsequent tweets — at “much more” to come. These hints were promoted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s deputy chief of staff and reportedly piqued the fascination of White House officials struggling to defend their nominee.
“Ed Whelan is the model of careful, discerning legal analysis and commentary,” National Review editor Rich Lowry told Politico on Thursday. “It’s why all of us who know him take everything he says and writes so seriously.”
Then, that same evening, Whelan delivered . . . a beyond-speculative Twitter thread in which he compiled Google Maps images, old yearbook photos and floor plans he found on the Internet to make the case that one of Kavanaugh’s classmates may have actually attacked Ford.
So much for the hype. The American Conservative condemned the “crackpot theory” hours after Whelan had shared it. All night and into the morning, the legal scholar’s former supporters rushed to disavow his speculation. And Whelan soon deleted the entire thread and apologized for using the classmate’s name — even as he tried to assure reporters Kavanaugh had no role in concocting it.
His regrettable opus had begun with a tweet now being parodied across the Internet: “Okay, I’ll begin laying out some information concerning Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.”
Over the following two dozen tweets, Whelan laid out what could only arguably be called “information.”
He began by dissecting Sunday’s Washington Post article in which Ford alleged she attended a small house party in Maryland in the early 1980s, then fled after a teenage Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to rip her clothes off.
Whelan pulled clues from the article — such as Ford’s recollection that the house was located near a certain country club — to argue it could not have been Kavanaugh’s home, nor any of the other people Ford said attended the party. “None of the four lived in the vicinity of the Columbia Country Club,” he wrote.
Then, citing Kavanaugh’s 1983 yearbook and Google Maps, Whelan identified a certain classmate who apparently had lived near the country club. Using Zillow.com, he found the floor plans for the classmate’s old house and proceeded to investigate.
Ford told the Post she remembered an upstairs bathroom at the party, and, lo — the classmate’s house had one of those.
“She says the gathering took place in a small family room,'" Whelan wrote. “See the family room in the upper left of the floor plan.”
The point at which many began to lose faith in Whelan’s analysis probably came when he posted side-by-side yearbook photos of Kavanaugh and the classmate and noted “how much they resembled each other.” (The Post will not identify the classmate or link to Whelan’s images; but suffice to say the two boys had similar haircuts.)
“To be clear,” Whelan wrote in conclusion, “I have no idea what, if anything, did or did not happen in that bedroom at the top of the stairs, and I therefore do not state, imply or insinuate that [Kavanaugh’s classmate] or anyone else committed the sexual assault that Ford alleges.”
“Dude,” replied Ben Shapiro, who edits the conservative Daily Wire. “What are you doing? ”
Shapiro was hardly the only person to express the sentiment, or worse. Ford responded to Whelan’s theory within hours, saying in a statement she knew the classmate in question, and “there is zero chance that I would confuse” him for Kavanaugh.
Days-old tweets that had hyped Whelan’s info drop began disappearing from Twitter almost as soon as he had published it.
“I had no idea what Ed was planning,” wrote the Hatch staffer who had advertised Whelan’s feed. “I didn’t want to promote a thread that dragged an unrelated private citizen into this unfortunate situation.”
The general Twitter commentariat was savage — comparing Whelan to QAnon and the Unabomber, and hoping out loud the classmate he had named would sue him for defamation.
Right-wing pundits were not much kinder.
“It is inconceivable that this Whelan defense will help Kavanaugh in any way,” Rod Dreher wrote in the American Conservative. “In fact, it’s so nasty and desperate-seeming that it taints Kavanaugh, despite that fact that he might have had nothing to do with it.”
Whelan had “metaphorically set himself on fire” to advance an admittedly “interesting” theory, was the Washington Examiner’s take.
Fox & Friends contributed the rare positive review. “He put up side by side images,” Steve Doocy told his co-hosts. “They look a lot alike!” And some, like New York Times writer Ross Douthat, refused to believe Thursday’s tweets were all Whelan had up his sleeve.
By on Friday morning, barely 12 hours after he revealed his theory, Whelan deleted it.
“I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate,” he wrote. “I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”
As the day rolled on, even the White House disavowed the theory.