Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its questioning of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Chrisine Blasey Ford. And the day proved a study in contrasts. The morning questioning of Dr. Ford was marked by a credible and emotional witness who described in detail the alleged assault and the effects that it has had on her life and by very measured questioning from the committee and the investigator who handled all of the Republican questions. Dr. Ford was adamant that she was "100%" certain that Brett Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her.
The afternoon was a much more fiery affair. Judge Kavanaugh was just as adamant in his denials, and almost defiantly so. The questioning, at least initially, became much more of a hostile witness approach, with Kavanuagh reciprocating and treating questions from the investigator and the Republicans on the committee much more directly and appearing openly hostile to the Democratic questions.
The entire hearing was one filled with more dramatics and theatrics surrounding the timing of disclosure and the lack of a more in depth investigation. All in all, we got what we mostly expected. No new information, beyond confirming that Dr. Ford has a credible allegation. We still have a he said/she said account of the events and have possibly impugned the character of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the process.
"Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions."
President George W Bush
One particular refrain throughout the hearing were the accusations of political maneuvering and conspiracy.
Republicans are trying to ram this through without a full investigation.
Democrats sat on these allegations and have delayed until now just to derail the process.
Kavanaugh even included the possibility this was all a "political hit" and potentially all "revenge on behalf of the Clintons."
Everyone looks noble to their side and assumes the worst of the other, and both sides have been guilty of this. If we take off the presumption that the opposing side is only acting in the worst possible way, it seems we have reached this point because Senator Feinstein had never planned to reveal Dr. Ford's accusations at all and did not do so until the information had already been leaked. Contrary to what was discussed in the hearing, what leaked first was the fact that Senator Feinstein had a letter regarding some allegation. This information very well could have come from one of the friends Dr. Ford told about the assault and the steps she had taken. The letter itself did not leak until two days after the Intercept article. Then Dr. Ford came forward when reporters began hounding her.
From what we have heard from Senator Feinstein, these allegations may very well have remained completely confidential and undisclosed had the information not leaked. At this point, we do not know why Senator Feinstein took such an approach. Perhaps she took confidential to mean that Dr. Ford did not want the allegations to come out at all. Perhaps Senator Feinstein did not believe the allegations in the letter were credible enough at that point without further open discussion to derail the confirmation process. We do not know enough at this point to assume and impugn motive.
Likewise, we impugn ill motive on the circus that has surrounded the scheduling of this particular hearing and the delay that resulted. And while political motivation is possible and probable, there are many other complex factors that certainly played large factors. Just in my office, trying to schedule a short meeting can be downright impossible. I cannot imagine what occurs at this level.
For certain, there is plenty of blame to be thrown around regarding how this all went down. But there is nothing gained (but political favor) by continuing to denigrate the opposite side. There is nothing gained from calling this whole process a sham, as Senator Lindsey Graham so indicated, beyond continued division. And because both sides took this approach, we gained very little in terms of questions to either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh, and instead came away more with the political theatrics and grandstanding.
Let me tell you what I wish I'd known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control:
Who tells your story
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story - Hamilton
What we have seen through this whole process is a tale of two Brett Kavanaughs. Judge Kavanaugh presents his past as one where he was the ultimate goodie-two shoes. His testimony focused on how he was top of his class, got into Yale, into Yale Law School. He was always working, always studying, always working out or with the athletic teams. He documented everything meticulously. As many people stated and as was stated throughout the hearing, he was and is a "good person." Sure, he enjoys beer, who doesn't, but he has never been that hard of a partier. Never blacked out or not remembered the night before. How could such accusations about him be true?
And yet, there is also the Brett Kavanaugh of the allegations. Now three different women have come forward and have accused Kavanaugh of some form of sexual impropriety. Some of the allegations have been corroborated, though anonymously. Further, there are classmates who have stated they remember Kavanaugh as a blackout drunk, a belligerent drunk, a very hard partier. There's the Kavanaugh of his yearbook which seemed to paint a different picture of his high school days that the one Kavanaugh has been stating. Even with the more innocent explanations, there is a picture of how Kavanaugh is at least remembered by some that does not match Kavanaugh's own story.
And this matters because we are down to he said/she said. Because we have two people who both claim 100% certainty, though in complete opposition. Dr. Ford's testimony has the appropriate gaps in memory that we would expect from such events. Things that are seared into her brain, while others take reconstruction or are not remembered. This is why eye witness testimony is one of the least reliable types of evidence. Our memories are faulty. They leave out details, they have gaps, people focus on different things. If you have a group of people who all tell the exact same story down to the last detail, it is generally thought of as unbelievable, as it comes across as rehearsed and likely fabricated.
Kavanaugh has left himself no wiggle room in his testimony. His past has to be perfect or he has planted doubt as to what he is covering up. He has categorically denied even ever being at a party like the one Dr. Ford described. He is placing such strong emphasis of his memory of events from 36 years ago and on his transcribed record of the time, he leaves himself no room for error. No room for anything he may have forgotten or mis-remembered. And because we have other accounts of a different version of Brett Kavanaugh from that time, the question of his past continues to be a specter over these allegations. Even a simple, "yes I partied hard and have definitely been very drunk in the past, but I know I never did this" (if true) could have gone a long way to address the conflicting accounts.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Could Kavanaugh have been so drunk that he didn't remember being at such a party? Could Ford have mis-identified her assailant? Without further investigation, these are the type of questions that we will not have answered.
Ultimately and unfortunately, this is likely where this process ends. As of now, the Senate Judiciary Committee still plans to vote today to recommend Kavanaugh for the nomination. No further investigation is planned at this time, though one has been recommended and requested by several organizations including the American Bar Association. We are likely never going to have more information on the accusations or the underlying facts at issue.
What we can do is work on changing the world around us to help make sure we as a society are not in this situation again.
- Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.
- And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.
- 1 in 6 women have been sexually assaulted or raped.
- 3% of men have experienced sexual assault or rape (likely higher due to under reporting).
- An average of 63,000 children a year are victims of sexual assault.
- 9 out of every 10 rape victims are female.
- 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will actually see prison.
- As of 1998, it is estimated that 17.7 million women have been sexually assaulted or raped.
- About 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported.
- 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.
We've got to work on changing system to believe sexual assault victims when the come forward and to encourage victims to speak up and support them through the process. Because some other statistics are even more troubling.
Of those who were assaulted and did not report, but offered a reason for not reporting:
- 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
- 13% believed it was a personal matter
- 8% believed it was not important enough to report
- 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
Someone everyone else would think is a "good person."
Update - As of 2:00 pm ET, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 to advance Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Senate Floor. By 3:50 pm ET, the Senate Republican agreed to a delay of no greater than one week to allow for an FBI supplemental background investigation into the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.