Is Brett Kavanaugh guilty of sexual assault?
I don’t know.
I just watched an entire day of Senate Testimony on that very topic and I still don’t know one way or the other.
Should Brett Kavanaugh be on the U.S. Supreme Court?
If ever I had any doubts as to that judgement, today’s testimony was certainly enough to alleviate them. Of course, the man is a real threat to liberal politics, and I knew that before today. With a Republican President (even a complete lunatic of a Republican President), I would expect no less. But being opposed to someone’s politics, and thinking them unqualified for office aren’t exactly the same thing. After watching him today, however, I am convinced this man has neither the character nor the professionalism that one ought to expect of a Supreme Court Justice, regardless of his political persuasion.
Well, let me tell ya!
First, let me say that there are a couple variants of political hard-ball to which I do not really object, at least not on principle. Frankly, I think the Democrats would be well within their rights to reject any and all nominees the Trump administration puts forward at this point. The Republican Party made it damned clear that they weren’t going to work with Democrats when Barack Obama was in power, and I see no reason why the Democrats should be any more accommodating now that the Republicans dominate every branch of government. With a Supreme Court already tilted far to the right, this next appointment could well close quite a few doors for liberals and even moderates well into the foreseeable future. So, if Democrats want to fight about it, I’m on board to support them. Their prospects for victory are another question. What tactics are permissible, or even practical? That too is another question.
So, if the Democrats had wanted to just say ‘no’ and stick with that without even providing an argument on the merits of this particular nominee, that would be fine by me. The problem is of course, that they don’t presently have the numbers to win such a battle. The Republicans will beat them in a vote, and there is only so much you can do with procedural gambits. Even the filibuster will only accomplish just so much these days.
So, what’s to stop the Republicans from just ramming the whole nomination through? Apparently nothing. And why not? I may not like it. Other liberals may not like it. By I’m not sure they owe us any real seat at the table. As I mentioned, I think it’s Republicans that broke the goodwill necessary to negotiate these things in good faith, but the fact is that no such good faith exists at this time. Republicans and Democrats are no longer simply parties likely to disagree; they are enemies Hell-bent on each others’ destruction. There is no use crying about it or pretending otherwise. The bottom line is neither side here can be expected to make any effort to work with the other. Democrats were bound to say ‘Hell no’ going into this, and Republicans were bound to say “go fuck yourselves!” Anyone who was surprised by the vicious nature of this process has not been paying attention.
Our country is broken, folks. That’s a fact.
So how did things stand going into this? Right wingers assure us that Kavanaugh is an upstanding jurist with impeccable credentials. Having spent the last decade as a circuit court Judge, Kavanaugh is certainly qualified to handle important questions of constitutional law. Critics point to history of political extremism, much of it stemming from his work on the Starr investigation and later in the Bush administration. Kavanaugh may be an accomplished Judge, but he is also a judge with a history of highly partisan brinksmanship behind him.
One of the more serious (and odd) questions about Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve as a judge stems from his purchase of baseball tickets which led him to amass anywhere from $60,000-$200,000 in debt, which was paid off quite suddenly and without any clear explanation as to how. (It’s not likely the money could have come from his own salary.) That’s hardly enough evidence to convict the man of a crime, but it’s certainly cause for concern about the ability of a judge to do his job without undue influence by outside parties.
Perhaps the most serious questions about Kavanaugh’s professional conduct stem from the 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings in which critics allege Kavanaugh misled the Senate on his role in the hiring process for several parties, and in the adoption of warrantless wiretapping procedures after 9-11. In the confirmation hearings of the time, Kavanaugh adopted the practice is answering questions about his involvement in these politically touchy matters with hedging statements about whether or not he ‘handled’ a case or took a lead role, etc. He may or may not have maintained this word-game consistently throughout the process, but it certainly had the effect of misleading the Senate into the impression the he played little or no role in decisions over which subsequent revelations have shown clear involvement on his part. Whether or not this amounts to perjury, depends on who you ask. However you might answer that question, it certainly reveals a pattern of deceitful conduct in the confirmation process, and that alone could be a deal breaker for some folks thinking about his present nomination.
It should be.
And then there are the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Pardon me, predatory sexual misconduct.
It’s important to remember that Kavanaugh is not merely accused of doing something sexually inappropriate; he is accused to doing so against the will of the women involved. Whether or not there is any evidence to support these accusations, it is important to recognize the gravity of the accusations themselves. Kavanaugh is accused to consciously and willfully hurting the women in question, not merely getting fresh, but of taking steps to thwart their efforts to fend him off. That’s not just inappropriate; its predatory.
For purposes of brevity (lost hope that that is) I shall stick with the one accusation at issue in today’s hearings. This accusation comes from Christine Blasey Ford, who maintains that Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, pulled her into a room during a party back in high school, closed and locked the door, and sexually assaulted her. (More detail is just a google away.)
Many find Ford’s accusation in itself troublesome, partly because of the length of time between the event in question and the moment at which she went public, and partly because Senator Diane Feinstein had been aware of it for sometime before presenting it to the committee reviewing Kavanaugh’s nomination. Why did Feinstein wait so long? Many feel it was because this is an obvious ploy to delay the Senate’s confirmation vote. She maintains that Ford had asked her to keep the accusation confidential until the late date. So, which is it? Both is certainly an option. As to the length of time it took Ford to come forward, this does put a Hell of a strain on the effort to establish the facts of the case. Nevethertheless efforts to cast this delay as obvious proof that Ford is lying fall flat. Far from unusual, such delays are common among subject to sexual abuse. They often face serious backlash and stigma, and the accused often go unpunished. Not surprisingly, such victims often try to live with it themselves. This sort of thing may throw a wrench in the conceits of critical thinker hoping to sort the whole matter out with an honest debate, but it remains the task of committees like this to do their best.
It is worth bearing in mind that this is not a criminal trial. Kavanaugh will not go to prison on account of today’s events, but he might lose a job over it (maybe two). The question here is not whether or not he has been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Quite the contrary; it is whether or not the Senate can say with confidence that he belongs on the highest court in the land.
Watching today’s hearing, I saw little in the way of objective evidence telling us whether or not Kavanaugh did the things Ford said he did. There are several angles that could be taken to find out more, one of them of course being the possibility of asking the FBI to investigate the charges. Other options may exist, to be sure, but that is one with a degree of promise, not because the FBI will make any decisions on the matter, but because they can help to sort out many of the details at issue in the case. In any event, that would take some time. How much time, nobody can say, but it’s a fair bet they wouldn’t have a decision ready by tomorrow, which is when the Senate plans to vote on the matter. In the interim, there just isn’t much factual information to go on, certainly none that points conclusively one way or another.
This is certainly a problem. It may even be a problem for which Ford and/or Feinstein bear some responsibility. Were this a criminal trial, it would probably be enough of a problem to get the whole case tossed out, but this is not a trial, it is a political decision, and that decision is about whether or not Kavanaugh is worthy of a seat on the court.
Luckily, today’s proceedings did give us plenty of information to help answer that question. Simply put, Kavanaugh’s approach to the hearing was beyond reprehensible. No, I am not talking about his anger. It might be fair to suggest a nominee for such a high position ought to be more composed than he was, but I think the nature of the accusations make an emotional response understandable. There may even have been an element of an conscious choice to it, one perhaps urged by the idiots currently occupying the White House. Still, I think it best to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt as to his emotions. No. What bothers me isn’t his combativeness it’s the pattern of deceit he revealed in his answers to the Democratic Senators.
First, there is the whole matter of whether or not Kavanaugh would support asking the FBI to investigate the case. Asked this question repeatedly, Kavanaugh dodged it every time. He blamed the Democrats for delaying the investigation themselves. He lectured people on the limits of such an investigation as if literally every person in the room and a good number of us watching on television didn’t already know those limitations. He tried all manner of ways to explain why such a request might not be necessary. What he didn’t do, couldn’t bring himself to do, was simply answer the question. Hell, I could have done it for him; “No sir. I want this over. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow, and I want this concluded at that time. Full stop.” …I really think that was the answer (unless the real answer had something to do with fears of what the FBI could find). However he might have explained his response, Kavanaugh’s failure to answer a simple yes or no question is a index of insincerity.
Kavanaugh’s refusal to support inclusion of Mark Judge directly in the hearings was similarly evasive. Kavanaugh kept telling us that Judge had already spoken on the matter, but a simple question from Leahy very quickly demonstrated the value of questioning Judge directly in a hearing. Neither Kavanaugh, nor the Republican Senators ever acknowledged this fact, and their excuses grew increasingly disingenuous over the course of the hearing.
Kavanaugh was also asked to explain several comments in his High School, yearbook. Here is a copy of the text as produced by Vox.com (the relevant quotes are in red):
Varsity Football 3, 4; J. V. Football 2; Freshman Football 1; Varsity Basketball 3, 4 (Captain); Frosh Basketball (Captain); J. V. Basketball (Captain); Varsity Spring Track 3; Little Hoya 3, 4*** Landon Rocks and Bowling Alley Assault — What a Night; Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game Anyway?; Extinguisher; Summer of ‘82 — Total Spins (Rehobeth 10, 9…); Orioles vs. Red Sox — Who Won, Anyway?; Keg City Club (Treasurer) — 100 Kegs or Bust; [redacted] — I Survived the FFFFFFFourth of July; Renate Alumnius; Malibu Fan Club; Ow, Neatness 2, 3; Devil’s Triangle; Down Geezer, Easy, Spike, How ya’ doin’, Errr Ah; Rehobeth Police Fan Club (with Shorty); St. Michael’s…This is a Whack; [redacted] Fan Club; Judge — Have You Boofed Yet?; Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor; [redacted] — Tainted Whack; [redacted]; Beach Week 3-107th Street; Those Prep Guys are the Biggest…; GONZAGA YOU’RE LUCKY.
Michael Avenatti suggests that the FFFFFFourth reference is slang for “Find them, French them, Feel them, Finger them, F*ck them, Forget them.”
Others have suggested that the Devil’s Triangle was a reference to sex involving two boys and a girl.
Some have suggested that boofing is either sex in general or anal sex in particular.
According to Kavanaugh, the first was a joke about the way a friend pronounced the F-word, the second is a drinking game like quarters, and the third refers to farting. If Kavanaugh is telling the truth, these comments might be crude, but they are essentially consistent with his own self-presentation as a man who retained his virginity for several years after high school. If he is wrong, then these are lies, as is his earlier effort to present himself as a virgin at the time this was published.
More importantly, Kavanaugh’s response to the phrase “Renate Alumnius” suggests genuine malice. In today’s hearing, he suggested that this was merely a way to show that he and his classmates wanted to include a young lady, Renate Schroeder (now Renate Schroeder Dolphin) from a nearby school in their yearbook. In was not, he stated, a reference to sexual conquest as others have suggested. The problem is that she herself was unaware of these comments made by Kavanaugh and several of his male classmates. If the point was to include her, they forgot the most important part, which was actually talking about it with her. Still more to the point, when she herself learned about this, Renate was angry (even withdrawing her name from the list of 65 women supporting his character in the wake of Ford’s accusations). When Senator Blumenthal asked Kavanaugh about Dolphin’s reaction in today’s hearing, Kavanaugh feigned outrage, suggesting that Blumenthal was inappropriately sexualizing the comment.
That Dolphin herself interpreted the comment in question to be a sexual reference is clear enough from her own comments on the matter, but Kavanaugh pretends the implication has been fabricated by others. And thus he projects his own thinking in the yearbook onto those trying to call him out for it.
If the other denials are lies, Kavanaugh’s response to questions about Renate Dolphin amount to gaslighting.
Then of course, there is Kavanaugh’s repeated claims that all four people who were supposedly present at the party in Ford’s accusation have said it didn’t happen. At some point in the hearing, Kavanaugh was content to suggest that they didn’t remember it, which would be accurate, but by the end of the hearing, he kept telling everyone that the others had said it didn’t happen. ‘That didn’t happen’ and ‘I don’t remember it’ are not the same thing. There is a world of difference between those two claims, and I for one would expect anyone on the United States Supreme Court to know the difference between them. If this was a conscious deceit, then it was one worthy of a slow-witted sophomore; it isn’t a gambit worthy of an accomplished judge.
So there it is!
This is an awful lot of deceit for someone looking to be named a judge for life, let alone a justice on the highest court of the land. In the heat of the arguments, questions about these claims might have seemed a little suspicious, but upon reflection, they become a lot more important. Like Kavanaugh’s comments in his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings, his responses demonstrate a consistent effort to mislead the Senate regarding the matters at hand. Some of these deceits simply aren’t even necessary, or at least they wouldn’t have been if Kavanaugh hadn’t committed himself to a certain narrative about his sexual history. Whatever his reasons for producing them, these lies tell us a great deal about Kavanaugh’s character and his approach to legal matters.
Contrast this with Christine Blasey Ford, who conducted herself admirably throughout the hearing. She too had trouble handling her emotions, but she sure as Hell did a better job of it than Kavanaugh. Rachel Mitchel, the prosecutor who questioned Ford in this hearing brought out some inconsistencies in Ford’s overall story (her fear of flying, for example), but none of these proved central to the claims at hand. Significantly, Ford answered the questions in a straight-forward manner, conceded points and even corrected errors herself. We can say of Ford that she doesn’t have a lot of evidence proving that her accusations are true. What we can’t say of Ford is that she lied her way through the hearing. Kavanaugh definitely did. So, if I have nothing else to go on than the credibility of the two people in question, then I know damned well which one to go with. Simply put, Ford proved herself to be a more trustworthy witness.
Would I want to see a man locked up with so little to go on?
Am I comfortable denying someone a seat on the Supreme Court on that basis alone.
At the end of the day, this confirmation hearing still leaves us with an image of a political process so broken it taints everyone who touches it. Today’s hearing was a disaster. Something about America just doesn’t work anymore, and this hearing (like the other disaster unfolding in the White House) is just one symptom of it. But if we Americans really must charge right off a cliff, as we seem to be doing these days, then let us do it without this particular judge!
Kavanaugh does not belong on the Supreme Court. He doesn’t belong on a Circuit Court Either.