“But while the FBI investigation may turn up additional useful information, at this point there is absolutely no need for it unless Christine Blasey Ford wants it. It’s completely unnecessary in determining whether Brett Kavanaugh should be on the Supreme Court; even the very limited questions already asked of Kavanaugh have yielded disqualifying answers. Kavanaugh is lying, it’s provable, and that’s all there is to it. Unless you think it’s acceptable to have someone on the federal bench who treats duly sworn oaths as meaningless, the guy shouldn’t be holding any office.”
– Nathan J. Robinson, “How We Know Kavanaugh Is Lying”, Current Affairs, Sept. 29, 2018
While the past week opened with a false scare that Trump might fire Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and thereby imperil the Mueller investigation, the week in fact turned on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, in which the committee heard the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. Kavanaugh also gave testimony.
It’s important to acknowledge the context of the hearing. Republican Senators have been in a rush to confirm Kavanaugh, apparently concerned to get him confirmed as soon as possible, and definitely before the midterm elections. They have withheld requested documents and been very careful with what they did release. Throughout the process, they have seemed intent on confirming Kavanaugh and were apparently willing to withhold information to make sure that they succeeded.
This quick process was upended when Ford’s allegation surfaced a few weeks ago. News had leaked out that there was an allegation in the form of a letter held by Senator Diane Feinstein. As the identity of Dr Ford became known, she decided to come forward and gave an interview to the Washington Post in order to have her story told correctly. Republicans were outraged that Feinstein hadn’t brought the allegation forward earlier. Democrats weren’t too happy about it, either. However, Feinstein had promised Dr Ford that she would hold her allegation in confidence and that it was up to Dr Ford to decide whether or not to come forward. Senator Feinstein has said that neither she nor her staff had leaked news of the letter. Friends of Dr Ford’s had known about the allegation and that she was conflicted about reporting it. She had also contacted the Washington Post in July, though they were also asked to hold her story in confidence. No one knows who the source of the leak was.
Once the story was out, Senator Grassley, the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, attempted to schedule a hearing with Ford as quickly as possible – without even checking with her, at first presenting her with a “take it or leave it” choice. Ford’s attorney’s pushed back and the hearing was eventually scheduled for Thursday. Only Dr Ford and Kavanaugh would be allowed to testify. There would be no other witnesses. This was consistent with the approach the GOP had taken throughout the confirmation process: severely limit any information that might not be flattering to Kavanaugh. They also took an additional step to limit the appearance that they were beating up on Dr Ford. They hired a prosecutor from Arizona, Rachel Mitchell, to ask questions in order to avoid the optics of having her questioned on the Republican side only by old, white men.
Many articles have been devoted to the hearing. Most affecting and useful is just watching it. The key takeaways are these. Dr Ford’s testimony in the morning was searing, thoughtful and credible. She did her best to answer the questions that were put to her, revising her written testimony in an apparent attempt to be as thorough and accurate as possible. Ms Mitchell’s questions did nothing to raise questions about the testimony Dr Ford gave. By the end of the morning – Dr Ford’s half of the day – there was widespread agreement that Kavanaugh’s nomination was in trouble. Ford had been believable and she had been sympathetic.
Then came the afternoon. Kavanaugh opened with a forty-minute tirade, a fury of rage and tears, in which he presented himself as a man unfairly accused. He alleged that Democrats had brought forward the accusation at the last minute deliberately to torpedo his confirmation, calling it a “national disgrace”. He went further, claiming that the Clintons and their disappointment at not winning in 2016 were somehow the driving forces in causing Dr Ford to come forward – which she had done of her own volition back in June, reaching out to her Congresswoman. He went on to threaten Democrats that “what goes around, comes around”. Republicans on the committee ate it up.
Let’s pause for a minute there. We can’t know for certain whether or not the allegation is true (though there are two other allegations of assault that have been made by other witnesses whose evidence the committee refused to hear). It’s possible that Kavanaugh had the right to be upset. But he’s up for the highest judicial appointment in the land, one that lasts for life. His behavior was the furthest thing from “judicious” as one could possibly imagine. He was out of control. He was railing at the Democrat Senators on the committee, accusing them of an absurd conspiracy (Dr Ford had told witnesses years ago about the assault, knowledge of which was presumably limited only to herself and the alleged perpetrators, Kavanaugh and Mark Judge) and threatening them with consequences. He can’t possibly rule with impartiality on any case with a liberal or Democratic plaintiff – on the Supreme Court or on any other.
And then it got worse. Under questioning, Kavanaugh lied repeatedly. When he wasn’t lying, he was evading questions and trying to present himself as an innocent who had liked an occasional beer, but otherwise had always been a model of good character and conduct. Yet the very lies he was telling proved this to be untrue. As Senator Blumenthal said at one point, “(translating from the Latin) …false in one thing, false in everything.’ Meaning in jury instructions that [prosecutors tell] the jury that they can disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing.” The repeated lies – under oath – and evasions don’t prove Dr Ford’s allegations, but they lend credibility to them. And they destroy Kavanaugh’s credibility. For a Supreme Court justice, indeed, any judge, the lies alone are disqualifying.
Yet somehow Republicans were energized by Kavanaugh’s attacks and lying. We shouldn’t be surprised. They’re energized by Trump’s attacks and lying, too. And they may be forgiving the lies because they already believe Kavanaugh is unfairly accused, so anything he does is fair game. (Why it wouldn’t occur to them that he wouldn’t need to lie if he was innocent?). Lindsey Graham was so inspired, he launched into an unhinged tirade of his own. At the end of the day, the press was largely reporting the hearing as a partisan standoff, with no conclusive way to decide who was right. That’s not really accurate.
No, we can’t know for certain (especially without calling other witnesses, such as Mark Judge) if Dr Ford’s accusation is true. But we can clearly see that it’s internally consistent and that she’s a credible witness. We can also clearly see that Kavanaugh was anything but a credible witness. His actions in the hearing – fuming, blaming, lying, obfuscating – gave him away. He’s unfit to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court. Or as a judge anywhere.
What’s more, the Republican party has proven itself unfit to govern. They’ve done everything they can to avoid discovering the truth and, when something does emerge, to cover it up – much the same as Kavanaugh did. After hearing Dr Ford’s testimony in the morning, which they didn’t have the guts to challenge, they essentially ignored her in the afternoon, as if she didn’t matter. Instead they went all in, treating Kavanaugh as the real victim. This was as nauseating as it was absurd. But it’s today’s GOP, a party not of conservatism but of white male grievance, where facts don’t matter and only white men suffer. It’s a travesty and needs to be defeated decisively in November.
The day after the hearing, the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to move the nomination forward. But then Senator Jeff Flake, who had that morning been confronted when trying to take an elevator by assault victims, notified the Senate that he wouldn’t vote for the confirmation unless the FBI was given a week to investigate the allegations and question other witnesses. He was joined by Senator Murkowski and the Republicans had to give in to the request.
Since then the White House, led by Kavanaugh supporter White House counsel Doug McGahn, has been in overdrive working to limit the scope of the investigation. The people and things they’ve put off limits are a list of all that could incriminate Kavanaugh: Chris Garrett (aka, Squi) who was Christine Blasey’s boyfriend and a friend of Kavaughs (and may have been at the party on July 1 where it’s possible that Blasey Ford was assaulted), Mark Judge’s employment record that summer, a third accuser, and so on. The White House has periodically said that the FBI has free rein to investigate what they will, but up until this point that seems to have been a lie. So it’s plausible that the investigation will be a sham, set up by the Republicans to give cover to Flake, Murkowski and others for a “yes” vote. Whether the FBI uncovers the evidence or it’s done by the press, it needs to come out. And now.
In Other News
Monday a second person, Deborah Ramirez, came forward, alleging that when they were at Yale together a drunken Kavanaugh had dropped his pants and thrust his penis towards her face. Her story was reported in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow.
On Tuesday, Trump gave a speech at the UN and bragged, “In less than two years my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country…so true.” The remark was met with laughter from the audience.
On Wednesday a third accuser, Julie Swetnick, stepped forward, alleging that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge had gotten women drunk or drugged in order for them to be gang-raped. Swetnick is represented by attorney Michael Avenatti. At this point, she is one of the witnesses who is off-limits, per the White House, to the FBI.
On Friday, the House passed ‘tax scam 2.0’, another give-away to the rich. However, the Senate has no plans to take the measure up.
Another article came out, plausibly alleging that the Russian attack on our election in 2016 was decisive in providing Trump with victory*.
There are still migrant children who haven’t been reunited with their parents. And July 26th – the “final date” for them to be reunited – was so long ago. Now the administration* is shipping hundreds of migrant children to a large camp in the Texas desert. As Charles Pierce writes, “Rage is inadequate.”
The White House anticipates catastrophic global warming by 2010. So they’re using that as an excuse to loosen carbon emission restrictions. Because, why bother? It’s too late now to do anything. We’re all going to die.
Here’s a thought: let’s not. Instead let’s defeat the Republican Party all over the country. Let’s take back the House. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the House can investigate allegations that the Republicans wouldn’t touch. If needed, it can work to impeach him. Let’s take back the Senate. Without it, Trump will lose the power to appoint judges. Let’s take back our country. It’s in desperate need of saving.
36 days to go! Join us: text-bank, write postcards, phone-bank, register voters, canvass. And be ready to join in on the Last Weekend. It will take all of us. Let’s win this!
– Tom Benthin
*indicates highly questionable legitimacy
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.