Politics

Kavanaugh’s Increasingly Dubious Denials

The weight of testimony against the Supreme Court nominee is becoming heavier and heavier.

Brett Kavanaugh
Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 4.
Chris Wattie/Reuters

Over the past week, Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, has issued a series of denials about his behavior involving women, parties, and alcohol. Some of his denials have been contradicted by witnesses. Others are at risk of being falsified as additional witnesses come forward. Kavanaugh could be telling the truth. But the weight of testimony against him is becoming too heavy to endure.

Kavanaugh’s first statement, issued on Sept. 14, was a response to a letter from Christine Blasey Ford. In the letter, which Ford sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ford alleged that in 1982, Kavanaugh had pushed her into a bedroom, climbed on top of her, put his hand over her mouth to silence her, and tried to remove her clothes. Kavanaugh’s statement denied “this allegation,” leaving open the possibility that he might have engaged in sexually aggressive behavior under other circumstances. But in a statement on Sept. 17, he ruled out that possibility. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone,” he declared.

Kavanaugh issued brief follow-up statements on Sept. 20 and Sept. 23. But in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 24, he crossed a line. Responding to a second allegation—this time from Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her during a drinking game in college—he wrote, “Once again, those alleged to have been witnesses to the event deny it ever happened.” The phrase “once again” referred to Ford’s allegation. But Kavanaugh’s implication—that the alleged witnesses to the Ford incident had denied it ever happened—put him in conflict with a third woman. That woman, Leland Keyser, was one of the people alleged by Ford to have attended the 1982 gathering. On Sept. 23, the Washington Post reported that Keyser “said she did not recall the party but believed Ford’s account.” That doesn’t match Kavanaugh’s characterization in his Sept. 24 letter. Arguably, it says the opposite.

The next day, Sept. 25, Kavanaugh went further. In an interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, he denied any physical contact with Ford. MacCallum asked, “You … never kissed her, never touched her, nothing that you remember?” Kavanaugh replied, “Correct. I never had any sexual or physical activity with Dr. Ford.” He added, “I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.” And he denied not just the party in question but anything like the house or the scene Ford had described. “I was not anywhere at any place resembling that in the summer of 1982,” he said.

Kavanaugh issued a similarly broad denial of Ramirez’s story: “I never did any such thing.” When MacCallum brought up insinuations from attorney Michael Avenatti about additional accusations—this time involving high school parties where boys had allegedly lined up for sex with women incapacitated by alcohol or drugs—Kavanaugh denied that, too. MacCallum asked the nominee whether he’d ever had “any sense” of being at a party where women were taken to rooms for sex with multiple men, even “consensually.” Kavanaugh replied, “I never saw any such thing.”

In free-floating comments during the interview, Kavanaugh denied that anything like the stories that had been told about him could be true. “I didn’t do this or anything resembling this,” he insisted. Later, he repeated, “I’ve never, never done anything like this.” He also denied ever having consumed alcohol to the point of memory impairment:

MacCallum: Was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened the night before?

Kavanaugh: No, that never happened.

MacCallum: You never said to anyone, “I don’t remember anything about last night”?

Kavanaugh: No, that did not happen.

These statements were risky. If witnesses were to come forward and say that they saw Kavanaugh do any of these things, his credibility would be trashed. The range of acts he denied was considerable: drinking to the point of memory impairment, having anything close to sex in high school, being at any place resembling the alleged 1982 party, and being at any party where women in bedrooms had sex with multiple men.

A day after Kavanaugh’s interview, another witness, Julie Swetnick, contradicted it. She was the woman whose pending allegations Avenatti had touted. In a declaration signed on Sept. 25, she asserted under penalty of perjury: “I have reviewed Brett Kavanaugh’s recent claim on Fox News regarding his alleged ‘innocence’ during his high school years and lack of sexual activity. This is absolutely false and a lie. I witnessed Brett Kavanaugh consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women during the early 1980s.”

Swetnick accused Kavanaugh and his friends of serious offenses. She said she had been raped at a party he attended, and she claimed to have “witnessed efforts by [Kavanaugh’s friend] Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented” so they could be similarly attacked. She added, “I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their ‘turn’ with a girl inside the room. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh.”

Skeptics dismissed Swetnick’s allegations as bizarre and uncorroborated. But they matched an account given to the New Yorker by Elizabeth Rasor, a former girlfriend of Judge. According to the magazine, Rasor “recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual.”

Beyond these extreme incidents, Swetnick reported other observations that contradicted Kavanaugh’s denials:

On numerous occasions at these parties, I witnessed Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh drink excessively and engage in highly inappropriate conduct, including being overly aggressive with girls and not taking “No” for an answer. This conduct included the fondling and grabbing of girls without their consent.

I observed Brett Kavanaugh drink excessively at many of these parties and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, “grinding” against girls, and attempting to remove or shift girls’ clothing to expose private body parts.

Swetnick claimed to have supporting witnesses. She said that shortly after she was raped, she had told two other people. She asserted that “other women” had told her about similar conduct by Kavanaugh “during the Summer months in Ocean City, Maryland on numerous occasions.” And at the conclusion of her allegations, she alleged that she knew of “other witnesses” who could “attest to the truthfulness of each of the statements above.”

On Wednesday evening, NBC News reported yet another allegation. According to the story, an anonymous woman has told the office of Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, that Kavanaugh “physically assaulted a woman he socialized with in the Washington, D.C., area in 1998 while he was inebriated.”* The woman who sent the report said Kavanaugh “shoved her friend up against the wall very aggressively and sexually.” She added, “There were at least four witnesses including my daughter.”

Kavanaugh dismisses this story too. But the number of accusers is piling up, and some of their stories are converging. In a written statement sent to the Judiciary Committee late on Wednesday, Ford offered more details about what Kavanaugh allegedly did to her in 1982. “Brett got on top of me,” she wrote. “He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me.” That echoed Swetnick’s report about Kavanaugh “grinding against girls” at parties.

For Kavanaugh’s supporters, the bottom line is grim. You can still believe that he’s telling the truth. But in order to believe that, you’ll have to believe that more and more women are lying.

Correction, Sept. 27, 2018: This article originally misspelled Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s last name.