Politics

Investigate Kavanaugh

Christine Blasey Ford wants full scrutiny of her claims against the Supreme Court nominee. The GOP should support that.

The Supreme Court.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who claims that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers more than 30 years ago, wants an investigation. In a letter sent Tuesday to Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford’s lawyers called for an FBI probe of “the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter.”

Grassley and his allies aren’t interested. They oppose an FBI investigation and are trying to limit the committee’s inquiry on the grounds that nothing can be learned. “The claims are wholly unverifiable,” says Sen. Orrin Hatch, the committee’s senior Republican. Grassley says he’s willing to hear testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh but nobody else. The Wall Street Journal editorial page says there’s no point in even holding a hearing, since “there is no way to confirm her story.”

These attempts to truncate or dismiss the inquiry are wrong. There’s a lot that can and should be investigated to resolve what happened. Here’s a list.

1. Witnesses. “There are no other witnesses to call,” says the Journal. That’s false. In her July 30 letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ford wrote that at least five people, including her, attended the gathering at which the assault allegedly occurred. One is Mark Judge, a friend and classmate of Kavanaugh’s who, according to Ford, was in the room with her and Kavanaugh during the assault. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ford also named two other teens who, by her account, attended the party. The Post reported that it tried to contact those two people on Sunday, but they “did not respond to messages.”

The committee needs to interview these two people for two reasons. The first reason is to ask them whether Ford, Kavanaugh, and Judge disappeared together, as her story implies. But even if the two alleged witnesses don’t remember that, there’s a second reason: Hatch’s communications director says that in a conversation on Monday, Kavanaugh told Hatch that he “was not at any party like the one she describes.” Furthermore, the Post reports that Kavanaugh, “through a White House spokesman … did not respond to questions about whether he knew her [Ford] during high school.” If either of the putative witnesses recalls Kavanaugh being at a small party with Ford, that raises questions about Kavanaugh’s memory or veracity.

2. Denials. Another Republican on the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, says there’s “no reason” for Judge to testify, since “He’s already said what he’s gonna say.” The Journal agrees, asserting that Judge, like Kavanaugh, “says he recalls no such event.” But there’s a curious gap between Judge’s statements and Kavanaugh’s.

Kavanaugh’s denials are firm. “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” he replied when Ford’s letter, apparently with her name omitted, was initially described to him. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” On Monday, after the Post reported Ford’s name and further details of her story, Kavanaugh reiterated: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.”

Judge is less adamant. “I have no recollection of that,” he told the New Yorker when the allegation was first broadly outlined to him. Later, he told the New York Times, “I never saw anything like what was described.” But in interviews with the Times and the Weekly Standard, Judge signaled that his denials were based on a general portrait of Kavanaugh’s character. Kavanaugh wasn’t “into anything crazy or illegal,” and both boys were raised in good Catholic homes, he argued, so an incident like the one Ford described “would stick out.” And that, he concluded, “is why I don’t think it would happen.”

Judge’s entry in his senior yearbook provides grounds to doubt his denials. It includes this quote from playwright Noël Coward: “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” So it’s worth pressing Judge about the extent of his uncertainty. And it’s worth asking Kavanaugh why he’s more confident than Judge.

3. Kavanaugh’s alcohol use. The most likely reason for Judge’s uncertainty is that Judge is a confessed recovering alcoholic. He knows that in their high school days, he sometimes got drunk to the point of not remembering what he had done. Therefore, he understands that even if he can’t believe he or Kavanaugh would have done what Ford alleges, it’s possible that it happened. In a statement issued on Tuesday by his attorney, Judge says: “I have no memory of this incident.”

In her letter and in her interview with the Post, Ford says Kavanaugh and Judge were “highly inebriated,” “very drunken,” and “stumbling drunk.” Specifically, she recalls that Kavanaugh’s impairment thwarted his attempts to pull her clothes off. That part of her account raises two questions that can be investigated. First, did Judge and Kavanaugh have a history of drinking? Second, did their drinking sometimes lead to them do things that they later didn’t remember?

In Judge’s case, the answer to both questions is yes. He has written two books about his alcoholism and his high school years. He admits that he drank at teen parties, got “completely annihilated,” and sometimes woke up with no idea how he ended up where he was. He also depicts a character named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” who “puked in someone’s car” and “passed out on his way back from a party.”

How closely does that character match Kavanaugh? We don’t know. But we know from Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry that he drank. He claimed to belong to the “Keg City Club” (“100 kegs or bust”) and the “Beach Week Ralph Club.” Photos showed him and Judge at the beach together. During “beach week,” Judge recalls in one of his books, “Most of the time everyone, including the girls, was drunk. If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up.”

After they graduated, Kavanaugh went to Yale, where, according to the Yale Daily News and the Hartford Courant, he joined a “party-hearty” fraternity that “reviv[ed] a beer-drinking competition that college officials had banned from campus.” Kavanaugh also drank at Yale Law School. In a speech four years ago, he recalled organizing “a night of Boston bar-hopping,” with students “doing group chugs from a keg” and “falling out of the bus.” “We had a motto, what happens on the bus stays on the bus,” said Kavanaugh. He went on to describe a banquet at which a friend broke a table:

It is fair to say that we had a few drinks. Indeed, as a classmate of mine and I were reminiscing and piecing things together the other day, we think we had more than a few beers before the banquet. … [My friend] lost his balance and fell into the table, drink in hand. … My friend actually tried to get another drink at the bar. … [T]he bartender refused to serve my friend. But that’s where one of our many fond memories of Yale Law School came in. Professor Steve Duke, who himself might have had a few cocktails, came to the rescue. … and got my friend some more beers. … Don’t ever let it be said that Yale Law School professors are not there when you most need them.

Kavanaugh’s story about piecing together in retrospect that he had been drinking before the banquet resembles Ford’s story about her assault. According to the Post, she recalled “that each person had one beer but that Kavanaugh and Judge had started drinking earlier and were heavily intoxicated.” Kavanaugh’s account also highlights the difficulty of recalling how you got drunk and what you did. So the committee needs to look at two questions. One is whether Kavanaugh’s history with alcohol casts doubt on his assurances that he couldn’t have done what Ford alleges. The second question is whether his refusal to entertain such doubts reveals a lack of humility, candor, or openness to evidence.

4. Ford’s memory. Unlike Anita Hill and the women who accused Roy Moore of sexual offenses, Ford says she has no contemporaneous record of her account. She told nobody. That leaves open the possibility that she fabricated the story years later. More plausibly, her delay in recording or reporting her account increases the risk that her memory, like all memories, has eroded or changed. She’s unsure exactly when and where the incident happened. If you don’t think Kavanaugh could have done what she alleges, it’s reasonable to ask whether she might be misremembering exactly what happened, or even who did it. But in that case, you should want testimony from the witnesses she has named.

We also need more detail about Ford’s first account of the assault. According to the Post, Ford’s husband says that “early in their relationship, she told him she had been a victim of physical abuse.” That conversation would have been around 2002, before Kavanaugh was a judge. After that, there’s no record of Ford telling anyone until 2012, when Ford talked about it with her therapist. During the 2012 conversation, Ford explicitly “voiced concern that Kavanaugh—then a federal judge—might one day be nominated to the Supreme Court,” according to her husband, as paraphrased by the Post. That timing, coupled with the reference to Kavanaugh joining the court, makes some Republicans wonder whether Kavanaugh’s ascent caused Ford to exaggerate or even concoct her account. But if she told the basic story a decade earlier, when he wasn’t even a judge, that motive wouldn’t apply.

Maybe Ford is mistaken about who was in the room and what happened. Maybe her memory is accurate, and Kavanaugh and Judge were too drunk to remember. Or maybe somebody is lying. We don’t have enough evidence yet to settle those questions. But we have enough evidence to know one thing: The committee has a lot of leads to work with. It should get on with the job.