Allegations of sexual misconduct almost always derive strength from numbers. The nature of the incidents makes them almost impossible to prove or disprove completely. When they have taken down powerful men, it has almost always been because of the severity of the allegations and evidence, yes, but also because of the volume.
So a big question with Brett M. Kavanaugh’s embattled Supreme Court nomination has been whether more women would come forward. And on Sunday night, one did.
At the same time, the account first published in the New Yorker is almost completely uncorroborated — more so than Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation — and it’s already being used by Republicans as evidence of a flimsily assembled, political effort to take down Kavanaugh. While their response to Ford was somewhat muted at first, Republicans almost immediately attacked the New Yorker’s piece as innuendo and publicly doubted it.
Let’s break down the new allegation.
The New Yorker’s report deals with Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh, when they were students at Yale University, stuck his penis in her face during a drinking game. This would be significant both because, if accurate, it would be a second case of an alcohol-infused incident. But it would also be the first example of one taking place while Kavanaugh was an adult. (Ford’s accusation involved an assault that allegedly occurred when she and Kavanaugh were in high school.)
Even the New Yorker’s write-up, though, takes pains to raise caution. Chief among them is that Ramirez at first wasn’t prepared to say it was definitely Kavanaugh who carried out the alleged act:
In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.
Also weighing significantly here is the lack of corroboration. The New Yorker interviewed multiple people who Ramirez said were at the party, and none of them said they could recall such an incident. This is notable because, while Ford’s allegation included one witness who denies recalling the alleged incident (Mark Judge), Ramirez’s allegedly took place in front of more people. That’s more potential witnesses, but none who attest to the allegation.
The reporters did speak to one former student who anonymously said he was not at the party but distinctly remembered hearing about the incident and Kavanaugh’s role in it.
The Washington Post and other news outlets had attempted to report out Ramirez’s story in the days before the New Yorker report. She declined to speak with the Post. The New York Times could not corroborate it, saying It also said that some potential witnesses hadn’t seemed certain about the alleged perpetrator when Ramirez called them about it recently:
The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.
This could simply reflect the six-day period the New Yorker described in which Ramirez said she wasn’t prepared to say it was definitely Kavanaugh, but the Times’s account seems to regard the whole thing with skepticism. Between the extensive reporting by the New Yorker and the New York Times, the lack of corroboration and even the doubts expressed by Ramirez are notable.
The New Yorker’s story also notes that Ramirez is a registered Democrat who, in her own words, “works toward human rights, social justice, and social change.” Those latter two ideals are generally embraced by and more associated with liberals. In talking to the New Yorker, Ramirez also made clear she opposes Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Reflecting on the incident now, she said she considers Kavanaugh’s male classmates culpable. “They’re accountable for not stopping this,” she said. However, “What Brett did is worse.” She added, “What does it mean, that this person has a role in defining women’s rights in our future?”
Ramirez’s accusation has the dual distinction of having more potential corroboration and less actual corroboration than Ford’s. Ford produced a six-year-old therapist’s note recounting an allegation similar to the one she made against Kavanaugh. She also reached out to The Washington Post before Kavanaugh was nominated but when he was on President Trump’s shortlist. The first reported example of Ramirez mentioning this alleged incident occurred after Kavanaugh was nominated, and she appears to have been proactively seeking others to corroborate her story, with no success.
Democrats have seized upon the new allegation to push for yet another delay in Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, which as of Sunday tentatively includes a Thursday hearing featuring Kavanaugh and Ford. Republicans are clearly unimpressed, both because of frustration with delays on account of the first allegation but also because they clearly feel more comfortable disputing this one.