Update 9/28: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (11-10) to advance Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. According to a gentleman’s agreement negotiated between Sen. Jeff Flake and Democratic members of the committee, the floor vote will be delayed by one week pending a renewed FBI background investigation on multiple claims of sexual assault.
Everyone knew the testimony would not clear anything up. You were expecting a Colonel Jessup moment from A Few Good Men? Instead, the Judiciary Committee vote, likely along party lines, is scheduled for Friday with basically the same information in front of members as they had yesterday. Along the way the world’s self-proclaimed greatest deliberative body soiled itself with partisan rancor —slut-shaming a woman not present, calling a sitting judge a drunk, and then labeling him a gang rapist.
Christine Blasey Ford is a serious, empathetic, and sincere woman. That does not alter that prior to her testimony today, Ford’s accusation as she repeated it in front of the Judiciary Committee had already been refuted by everyone she said was present at the party when Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her. Her “evidence” was she had told a similar story earlier to her husband, friends, and her therapist (without mentioning Kavanaugh by name), repetition, not corroboration. When asked about the possibility the assault took place but that she misremembered the assailant as Kavanaugh, Ford just said no and things were left there.
Ford admitted not remembering specifics that could have formed the basis of exculpation, including how she got home from the party, that driver being in a key position to assess Ford’s condition and thus support or weaken her story. By not providing an exact date for the alleged assault, Ford did not allow for Kavanaugh to present proof he was somewhere else. Ford in fact couldn’t say where they both were supposed to be to begin with, apart from “a suburban Maryland house.”
The attorney speaking for the Republicans gently pointed out multiple inconsistencies between Ford’s previous statements and today’s testimony, walking Ford back from assertions to assumptions. The questioning was consistent with what is done in sexual assault prosecutions to help evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Ford in the end presented a heartfelt but ultimately general accusation, backed only by the hashtag #BelieveWomen that precluded any serious questioning.
Brett Kavanaugh made clear Thursday none of what Ford (or his later accusers) said happened, had happened. He was unambiguous. He left no wiggle room. He could add no additional details to describe something that had not taken place. Clever lawyers created the appearance of a he said/she said. These are typically a case of two contradictory versions of a single event, as in date rape cases where sex is acknowledged by both parties who differ over the presence of consent. Kavanaugh’s situation is different; for the past four decades there was no “she said” until a handful of Democratic senators standing behind a victim they may have outed themselves forced Kavanaugh to deliver another round of “he said” denials today.
Kavanaugh showed real emotion in today’s testimony, describing how he has been treated as a political hit, before finally breaking into tears. He called out the media for slut-shaming one of his female friends based on a vague high school yearbook reference. No mind, multiple Democrats returned to the same accusations later anyway. Some women it seems testify, and others play their role as sluts off stage.
About the only real question was whether 99.99% or 100% of the people watching today had already made up their minds in advance. Ford was unable to prove the positive and Kavanaugh could never prove a negative. Truth became in the end extraneous to what was really going on. Ford was a prop used against Kavanaugh by Democrats seeking to change a confirmation hearing they would likely lose into a referendum on mistreatment of victims they might win.
The strategy was clear as Democrats used their questioning time to make speechlets everyone could agree with about sexual violence. Nearly every Democrat ceremoniously entered thousands of letters of support for Ford “into the record.” To make sure everyone really, really got the point, Senator Dianne Feinstein invited #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano to attend Thursday’s hearing (and speak with the media, of course.) This was theater.
At times things seemed one step away from bringing in Handmaid’s Tale cosplayers. The once great Senator Patrick Leahy engaged in an argument about the meaning of slang terms used in a 40-year-old high school year book with a nominee to the Supreme Court, as if proof of immaturity was proof someone was also gang rapist. Another exchange focused on whether a word meant puke or fart. For every careful courtesy shown Ford, Democrats treated Kavanaugh like a punching bag.
A strategy seemed to slowly emerge after Feinstein failed to coerce Kavanaugh into requesting an FBI inquiry. Senator Durbin next demanded Kavanaugh turn to the White House Counsel present and demand an FBI investigation on live TV. Durbin told Kavanaugh if he had nothing to hide, he had nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Senator Klobuchar then tried playing good cop, trying to persuade Kavanaugh in a sisterly way to call for the FBI. Kamala Harris went in as bad cop, shouting down whatever was said to her. It was pathetic; Kavanaugh had been to law school, too, saw the trap, and refused to give the Democrats the opening they needed – why even the nominee wants the FBI in, put the brakes on this confirmation, maybe until 2020. To call it all a circus is a disservice to real clowns.
How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool?
Only days ago, without the votes to reject Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats started throwing stuff against the wall hoping something would stick. It started with Cory Booker’s failed Spartacus stunt. Kamala Harris demanded more documents, likely hoping there might be a perjury trapplet buried in those 100,000 pages. Kavanaugh was accused of having a gambling problem, and of being an alcoholic (Senators Hirano, Klobuchar, and Booker accused him of having a drinking problem again today, Klobuchar explaining she knew one when she saw one because her grandpa is in AA.) And how had he paid off his debts after buying baseball tickets for friends? The goal wasn’t to show Kavanaugh was unqualified as a jurist. It was to show he was unqualified as a human being. Yet in each instance Kavanaugh coolly denied the accusations. Until…
Until a 2018 strategy emerged. One can still these days deny being a drinker, or a gambler, or stealing money, but one is no longer allowed to simply say no when accused of sexual assault. The Democrats would box Kavanaugh in, demanding he #BelieveWomen and withdraw, or somehow prove a negative to escape.
Ford was a near-perfect accuser for the Democrats’ purposes, the archetype Clinton voter, down to a photo circulating of her in her pink pussy hat. And when idea emerged really “credible” cases had multiple accusers, the always-reliable Ronan Farrow and Michael Avenatti dug around until they found more, upping the charges to gang rape along the way.
The counter-narrative this was not a Democratic set-up with Ford as an unwitting victim is everything emerged organically and righteously, albeit right on time. The accusers were never compelled to speak up during Kavanaugh’s years in the White House or on the Court of Appeals. And the FBI, which conducted six full background checks on Kavanaugh over his decades of government employment, had just plain missed it all. And Feinstein didn’t request an FBI investigation weeks ago because… something, and Ford’s identity was leaked by… someone else, and Feinstein never questioned Kavanaugh at his earlier hearings when she had the information literally in hand… because.
Something terrible happened to Christine Blasey Ford when she was in high school, there seems little doubt, but it is quite unclear that that also involved Brett Kavanaugh. Ford, despite her doctorate, came off as almost naive, claiming not to know what exculpatory evidence was, testifying she didn’t know why she took a polygraph test and had know idea who paid for it. She appeared a bit mystified by the vast forces swirling around her, and seemed to trust so-called honorable people would empower her, not use her.
As the day ends no one in America will have the conversation they need to now about whether the Democrats’ ends justify their means. Long after Kavanaugh either takes the bench on the Supreme Court, or returns to his lifetime appointment on the Court of Appeals, no one will ask that of Christine Blasey Ford.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi Peopleand Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. He is permanently banned from federal employment and Twitter.