The Slatest

Trump’s Claim That the Accusations Against Brett Kavanaugh Were a Democratic Smear Job Is a Smear Job

Hatch, Grassley, and McConnell pictured before beginning a press conference.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, and Mitch McConnell on Thursday at the Capitol.
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Monday, Donald Trump referred to sexual misconduct allegations against new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “a hoax set up by the Democrats.” While Trump put his own typically hyperbolic spin on the talking point, other Republicans have been saying for some time that Kavanaugh is the victim of a character assassination campaign orchestrated by elected Dems and their wealthy left-wing co-conspirators. Last week, Republican Iowa Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley angrily declared that Democrats “have just about destroyed a good person” and told CNBC that he suspected anti-Kavanaugh protesters were being paid by liberal philanthropist George Soros. Texas Senator and Judiciary Committee member John Cornyn compared Kavanaugh to Tom Robinson, the black victim of a bogus rape accusation (and target of an attempted lynching) in To Kill a Mockingbird. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, explaining her deciding vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday, called his nomination hearings a “dysfunctional circus” and complained of “dark money” interest groups driving American discourse to a “rock bottom” level.

It’s not just partisan hacks making the argument: Kavanaugh described himself as the victim of a coordinated and “well-funded” smear campaign in his Senate response to Christine Blasey Ford, and his supporters in the ostensibly highbrow, Trump-averse conservative punditsphere have adopted the claim as well. The notion has even crept into the analysis of avowedly reasonable, centrist-respected figures like the New York Times’ David Brooks and Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Kavanaugh has become “a pinball in the partisan politics of personal destruction,” Brooks wrote; Sasse, who elsewhere has prominently defended the credibility and honor of sexual assault victims, said that he was “heartbroken” for Kavanaugh and blamed Democrats for turning his confirmation hearings into a “made-for-TV circus.”

With this in mind, let’s review how the most prominent allegations against Kavanaugh were made, limiting ourselves just to individuals who’ve identified themselves publicly.

• Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in Northern California, contacted the Washington Post and her local congressional representative when she saw that Kavanaugh was being considered for a SCOTUS nomination. She says she remembers Kavanaugh and one of his classmates, Mark Judge, attempting to rape her in 1982 while they were very drunk.

• Deborah Ramirez, a city employee in Boulder, Colorado, came forward to the New Yorker to accuse Kavanaugh of having exposed himself to her while intoxicated when they were both freshmen at Yale. Two other Yale alums—a theological history professor from New Jersey and an ER doctor from California—told the New Yorker they remember hearing about such an incident at the time.

• Several classmates of Kavanaugh’s came forward to dispute his claims, made in a Fox News interview and Senate testimony during which he disputed Ford’s and Ramirez’s allegations, that he never behaved belligerently or inappropriately while drunk and had never been drunk enough to have caused gaps in his memory. One of those people is an oncologist in Washington, one is a history professor in North Carolina, one is the COO of a health care company in Pennsylvania, and another works in software in the Bay Area. The health care executive, Lynne Brookes, says further that she specifically remembers Kavanaugh and a friend drunkenly breaking into a room where a female classmate was involved in a sexual encounter in order to embarrass her.

Police records in New Haven, Connecticut, also cut against Kavanaugh’s claims about his demeanor while drinking, indicating that he was questioned by police after being accused of instigating a bar fight with a man who was then attacked with a beer glass by one of Kavanaugh’s friends.

What we have here, then, is either:

A) A Democratic conspiracy to plant operatives close to Kavanaugh in the 1980s, including one whose job was to, I guess, frame him for a UB40-related bar fight, then disperse those operatives across the country for decades to establish themselves in nonpolitics careers until the time was right to ruin his Supreme Court nomination.

Or:

B) The cumulative result of individual decisions to come forward to reporters, law enforcement authorities, and elected representatives with information relevant to Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve in a high office—often directly in response to claims Kavanaugh made to defend himself from initial allegations.

Respectable conservatives like Sasse and the writers at the Weekly Standard have pinned their case that Kavanaugh has been wronged on Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s failure to bring Ford’s initially confidential letter of allegations to the attention of the Judiciary Committee over the summer, when it might have been investigated privately and without the partisan smear-taint of a Democrat-orchestrated “media circus.” It’s true that we don’t know why Feinstein sat on the letter so long or who then leaked its contents to the press; it’s also true that Ford and Ramirez retained attorneys with connections to Democratic politics and had their allegations amplified by Democratic politicians.

At the same time, these accusers and witnesses had absolutely zero chance of having their testimony taken seriously by the Republicans who, given the way our government works, are the only other people who would have been in a position to do anything. The judiciary staffer leading the committee’s Kavanaugh background investigation responded to Ford’s allegations by tweeting that he was still “determined” to “confirm Judge Kavanaugh.” The judiciary spokesman who initially handled its response to Ford’s allegations worked for the same right-wing PR firm that promoted an insane conspiracy theory that implied one of Kavanaugh’s classmates was the real rapist; that spokesman also turned out to have left a previous job after being accused of sexual harassment. Republican judiciary member Orrin Hatch responded to Ramirez’s allegation by saying it was “phony” on the grounds that “I know it is, that’s why.”

Assuming that a good-faith request for a confidential investigation somehow made it through that group of impartial woman-trusters, it would have been supervised by the White House
Counsel’s Office, whose initial instructions to the FBI for this week’s abbreviated reinvestigation of Kavanaugh were so narrow that they prompted Republican judiciary member and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake to call for a “real investigation” that wasn’t just set up to give Republicans “cover” to vote for the nominee. The White House Counsel’s Office is, of course, also nominally supervised by a president who regularly derides the FBI as an instrument of the Democratic Deep State and who belittled Ford at a rally this week by mockingly and incorrectly claiming that she didn’t remember whether her assault had taken place upstairs or downstairs. The idea that this Judiciary Committee and this White House would ever have responsibly supervised and responded to an impartial, confidential FBI investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh is farcical. That Democratic legislators, Ford’s attorneys, and other allies of hers and Ramirez’s would ultimately choose to circumvent that process and make their case in public is not a sign that they were acting as cynical agents of a leftist smear conspiracy but rather a sign that they possess simple common sense.

There actually was, by contrast, a set of Kavanuagh accusations that was promoted irresponsibly by a Democratic activist who seemed to be nakedly exploiting them to advance his own aspirations: those made by Julie Swetnick, who’s represented by aspiring 2020 candidate Michael Avenatti. But NBC and other outlets have reported skeptically on Swetnick’s story, and Democratic politicians generally treated them with caution relative to the allegations made by Ford and Ramirez. While some Democratic judiciary members discussed Swetnick after she initially released her sworn declaration about Kavanaugh, the party did not subsequently press her claims as a reason to vote Kavanaugh down. In any case, Avenatti’s questionable behavior doesn’t discredit allegations that were made earlier and pursued by individuals who don’t have any connection to him.

The Republican argument that Kavanuagh was smeared has often been accompanied by crocodile tears over the purportedly-just-as-abhorrent way that Democrats have exploited Christine Blasey Ford. Ford did initially ask for confidentiality, and Democrats, like all politicians do regarding every issue, engaged in grandstanding about her claims. One other thing Ford was very consistent about requesting, though, was for Congress to reject Kavanaugh as unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. Perhaps those claiming to have her interests in mind while supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation—and describing Ford as a “mixed-up,” memory-addled lightweight too confused to realize she’s being used in a “hoax”—should think twice about just who exactly is being smeared.

This post was updated with Donald Trump’s Monday comments.