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Kavanaugh’s testimony depended heavily on exonerations that aren’t exactly exonerating

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh adamantly denied Christine Blasey Ford's allegation of sexual assault before the Senate Judicary Committee on Sept. 27. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

During the statement with which he opened his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh defended his life and career in sweeping, furious detail. He presented explanations ranging from popular ’80s movies to the endorsements of women with whom he worked as a judge.

Defenses offered in his opening speech became an ongoing component of his rebuttals to hostile questions from Democratic senators. Kavanaugh presented a specific rebuttal of the allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford, who claims he assaulted her at a party in 1982 when they were both in high school. Kavanaugh noted Ford had identified other people who were at the same party — people who didn’t say an attack on Ford occurred.

"[H]er friend, Ms. [Leland] Keyser, has not only denied knowledge of the party, Ms. Keyser said under penalty of felony she does not know me, does not recall ever being at a party with me ever,” Kavanaugh said. “And my two male friends who were allegedly there, who knew me well, have told this committee under penalty of felony that they do not recall any such party and that I never did or would do anything like this."

Those two male friends are Mark Judge, the conservative writer whom Ford alleges was in the room with Kavanaugh during the attack, and P.J. Smyth, a classmate who was mingling with others downstairs.

“Dr. Ford’s allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a longtime friend of hers,” Kavanaugh continued. “Refuted.”

That's a questionable determination.

Each of the three did make statements that did not corroborate Ford’s version of events, but none was fully exonerating for Kavanaugh.

Judge sent a letter, through an attorney, that read:

I have no memory of this alleged incident. Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford’s letter. More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.

Smyth also submitted a statement through an attorney:

I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh. Personally speaking, I have known Brett Kavanaugh since high school and I know him to be a person of great integrity, a great friend, and I have never witnessed any improper conduct by Brett Kavanaugh towards women.

An attorney for Keyser similarly released a statement:

Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.

None of the three said they were aware of an attack on Ford, but none said they weren’t at a party such as the one described. In a separate interview with The Post, Keyser said she believed Ford’s allegation. The closest thing to a denial that is offered is Judge’s assertion that he never saw Kavanaugh act in the manner described by Ford, but that’s after saying he didn’t remember the party at issue.

It isn’t unbelievable that one would not remember a party that occurred three decades before that, at least for Smyth and Keyser, would not have been particularly eventful. But these are not strong rebuttals of Ford’s point, as Kavanaugh surely knows.

Nonetheless, he kept coming back to the point.

“The FBI has never interviewed” Judge, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said. “If she’s saying Mark Judge was in the room then, then he should be in the room here today,” he continued. “Would you want him called as a witness?”

"He's already provided sworn testimony to the committee,” Kavanaugh replied.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) mentioned Judge, Kavanaugh jumped in.

“I don’t mean to interrupt, but I guess I am,” he said. “But Mark, Mark Judge has provided sworn statement saying this didn’t happen.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) questioned the extent to which that statement was binding on Judge.

"It's a statement signed by his lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder,” Blumenthal said. “It is six cursory and conclusory sentences. Are you saying that that is a substitute for an investigation by the FBI or some interview by the FBI under oath?"

"Under penalty of felony, he said that this kind of event didn't happen and that I never did or would have done something like that,” Kavanaugh said.

Generally, Kavanaugh's citation of the statements took a broader form: All four alleged witnesses to the attack say it didn't happen.

“I just want to reemphasize: All four witnesses who were allegedly at the event have said it didn’t happen, including Dr. Ford’s longtime friend, Ms. Keyser,” Kavanaugh said to Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.).

“That’s right, and if Mark Judge — if Mark Judge were in front of us today to question, we’d be able to assess his credibility,” Coons replied. He later asked Kavanaugh why he wouldn’t allow a one-week pause in his confirmation hearing to permit a fuller investigation.

“All four witnesses who are alleged to be at the event said it didn’t happen,” repeated Kavanaugh. “Including Dr. Ford’s longtime friend, Ms. Keyser, who said that she didn’t know me and that she does not recall ever being at a party with me with or without Dr. Ford.”

Who is the fourth witness, you may be wondering? It is apparently Kavanaugh himself, who, it’s certainly safe to say, offered the strongest rebuttals of the allegations against himself.

“It’s been investigated and all four witnesses say it didn’t happen,” Kavanaugh said to Coons.

Only Kavanaugh and Judge explicitly said it didn’t happen.

The Democratic senators also asked Kavanaugh about an allegation that he exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez at a party during his college years.

Kavanaugh said to Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) that “none of the witnesses in the room support that” allegation. The other students who were identified as being present didn’t say the incident didn’t happen. One told the New Yorker, which broke the story, that he didn’t think Kavanaugh “would flash himself to Debbie, or anyone.” Another said he had “zero recollection” of the alleged incident.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 27 if he had ever experienced memory loss due to alcohol use, he asked her the same question. (Video: Reuters)

Klobuchar explored Kavanaugh's denials that he was prone to drinking to the point of forgetting his actions.

“We have heard your college roommate say that you did drink frequently...,” she said. “Another classmate said it’s not credible for you to say you didn’t have memory lapses.”

“I don’t think I, I actually don’t think that’s, the second quote’s correct,” Kavanaugh replied.

It is. The classmate was Liz Swisher, who knew him in college. She told The Post that he was a “sloppy drunk,” adding: “There’s no medical way I can say that he was blacked out. . . . But it’s not credible for him to say that he has had no memory lapses in the nights that he drank to excess.”

Kavanaugh’s college roommate, James Roche, issued a statement saying the judge drank a lot as a student and “became aggressive and belligerent when he was drunk.” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked Kavanaugh about that characterization. He told Hirono, as he had to Klobuchar, that there was redacted information to which the senators were privy that weighed Roche’s credibility. It’s not clear what that was.

None of the alleged witnesses definitively confirmed Ford’s or Ramirez’s allegations. But neither did they refute the idea that Kavanaugh had been at a party with Ford or exposed himself to Ramirez. To hear Kavanaugh tell it, though, all the evidence at hand is robust evidence of his innocence.

In a court of law, the evidence presented by Kavanaugh’s accusers would likely be insufficient to reach the burden of moving beyond reasonable doubt. But Thursday’s hearing was not a court of law.