Friday, September 21, 2018

Another matter entirely:
Brett Kavanaugh's new brush with the past


MUCH OF the current hue and cry over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation to the United States Supreme Court hinges on his credibility in the face of allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor and research psychologist, concerning an alleged sexual assault back in the 80’s, when she was a student at Holton-Arms School and Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Maryland.

By now, courtesy of Emma Brown’s Sept. 16 story in The Washington Post, you know the particulars: “Earlier this summer, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. ...

“Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both ‘stumbling drunk,’ Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

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“While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.”

Blasey, who eventually came forward identifying herself as the author of the letter, told The Post that she “thought he might inadvertently kill me. He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations root and branch. In a statement released last week, the judge said “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” A man believed to be a witness to the event, the filmmaker and author Mark Judge, has denied Blasey’s assertions in rather expansive terms, and has denied knowing anything about the party.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine spoke to reporters on Sept. 17, saying that if Kavanaugh wasn’t being truthful about these allegations, “that would be disqualifying.” The right-wing brain of the punditocracy has similarly suggested the same thing, confident that Kavanaugh's denials would carry the day.

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BUT THE larger, more panoramic problem for the Republicans vis-à-vis Kavanaugh the nominee has been playing itself out for weeks. If the nominee’s truthfulness is the tripwire for disqualification, Kavanaugh may have already dealt himself a fatal blow.

The attention rightly paid to the Blasey-Kavanaugh dispute is one thing. What’s been somewhat overlooked by comparison is the assertion, based on reporting from several sources, that Kavanaugh has lied in Senate testimony, previously and before the very committee convened to determine his fitness for the Supreme Court.

Jeremy Stahl’s story in Slate on Sept. 12 is valuably comprehensive in exploring Kavanaugh’s apparent perjuries before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s most recent hearing earlier this month, and at hearings in 2004 and 2006.

And Pima Levy and Dan Friedman of Mother Jones were just as good in their exhaustive Sept. 6 story documenting Kavanaugh’s mistruths going back to 2002 and 2003, when he was a Bush White House lawyer, one who extracted information from documents belonging to the staff of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, a committee member — despite denials by Kavanaugh that he ever received it. The Mother Jones story also explores Kavanaugh’s apparent misstatements concerning his knowledge of the Bush 44 warrantless wiretapping program and torture policy (in 2006).

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The bottom line: Kavanaugh may be able to refute Blasey’s assertions about a long-ago incident at a party in Maryland, but that incident, whether it happened or not, pales (chronologically speaking) in comparison with the contemporaneous allegations that Kavanaugh lied as recently as weeks ago — in his testimony before the judiciary committee.

Lying about something that happened 30-odd years ago, tree-ring time, is one thing. It’d be another mountainous challenge to Kavanaugh’s nomination if he were also found to have perjured himself this year, or this month, about other matters pertinent to his character and honesty and qualifications.

Hopefully, Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Sen. Jeff Flake of Nevada, and any other Republican senators seeking the truth in the Kavanaugh matter — or cover from their possible intent to vote against him — already recognize that Kavanaugh’s nomination needn’t hinge on any one thing. It could and probably should rest on a combination of matters, including previous deceptions that would seem to be just as disqualifying as anything related to Blasey’s allegations.

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THE COMMITTEE hearing scheduled for Sept. 20 has been pushed back; Republicans have offered to hear from Blasey on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Blasey's attorney, Debra Katz, told the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 20 that Blasey would appear for a Capitol Hill hearing if senators provide “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety.” The Trump administration now confronts a challenge unlike anything it’s previously encountered.

Facing the certainly damaged and possibly doomed nomination of a singularly compromised candidate for the country’s highest court, House Trump is pushing against a growing chorus of opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. New polling finds public support for Kavanaugh hasn't just stalled but gone in reverse.

Choosing to die on Kavanaugh Hill risks alienating millions of the same suburban white women, seniors, independents and women over 50 who helped power Trump to the White House in 2016, and whose votes will also figure in how well, or poorly, Republicans do in the midterms seven weeks away. That’s option one.

Or (option two) Trump can come to grips with the declining return on investment he’s realizing with this flawed choice for the Supreme Court — he can admit a momentary defeat — and pick someone else. For the president*, one choice is unpalatable, the other is anathema.

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For an electorate that’s getting more restive, and a base that’s maybe more and more complacent in the face of Trump’s antics, neither option is exactly a confidence builder. One’s still better than the other, albeit not by much.

But Senate Republicans don’t have the luxury of looking at Kavanaugh’s obstacles in isolation; the nominee’s been shown to have lied or otherwise smudged the truth earlier in his judicial career, and he’s in the hot seat now for possibly having lied about his high school past. And practically speaking, it makes no sense for Blasey to volunteer to turn her life and her family’s life upside down for the sake of pursuing a decades-old lie.

In a tweet that smartly distills the issue in terms anyone can understand, Steve Schmidt, a former Republican campaign manager and current Republican apostate, asked the questions that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee have to ask themselves, hard, over this coming weekend:

“Riddle me this. If someone is lying (Dr. Ford) and they know that lying to the FBI is a crime, why would they be asking for an FBI investigation? If a sitting Federal Judge is accused of something he denies with his reputation at stake, why wouldn’t he demand one?”

Guaranteed: Suburban women voters have been asking themselves those questions too.

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IN A MARCH 2015 speech, speaking at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, Kavanaugh made a curious comment whose implied borderline anti-social context obliquely reinforced the idea that, hey, boys will be boys, some boundaries just don’t exist for some people. Some rules don't apply.



“By coincidence three classmates of mine at Georgetown Prep were graduates of this law school in 1990 and are really, really good friends of mine,” said the judge.

“Fortunately, we've had a good saying that we've held firm to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.’

“That's been a good thing for all of us I think.”

There may be no one in the country who wishes that were true more than Brett Kavanaugh.

Except maybe Donald Trump.

Image credits: Kavanaugh: Columbus School of Law. Blasey: The Ford family.

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