A friend in politics emailed me on Friday night to say it was silly of Republicans to base their defense of Kavanaugh on the fact that his accuser was still unknown. After all, that could change soon and almost certainly would. The confirmation vote is Thursday; every prominent Democrat in America would be working behind the scenes to pressure this woman to reveal herself and accuse him on the record, ideally with some contemporaneous corroboration of the incident. Then we’d have a true “he said, she said” (or rather, a “he said, he said, she said,” since Kavanaugh’s high-school chum who was allegedly in the room during the incident also denies that anything happened). What would Collins and Murkowski do then? If the case for dismissing this accusation out of hand is the accuser’s anonymity then you’ve handed Democrats the power to destroy your case. All they need to do is convince her to come forward.
Which shouldn’t have been hard since, according to Ronan Farrow, she approached them in July with her story, not vice versa. Why would she go to that trouble in the name of blocking him from the Court, only to stand aside and let it happen when she had one last chance to speak up?
So she’s speaking up. For all we know, they convinced her to do so in July and asked her to wait until the week of the vote for maximum impact.
[Christine Blasey Ford] alleges that Kavanaugh — who played football and basketball at Georgetown Prep — held her down with the weight of his body and fumbled with her clothes, seemingly hindered by his intoxication. Judge stood across the room, she said, and both boys were laughing “maniacally.” She said she yelled, hoping that someone downstairs would hear her over the music, and Kavanaugh clapped his hand over her mouth to silence her.
At one point, she said, Judge jumped on top of them, and she tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free. Then Judge jumped on them again, toppling them, and she broke away, she said.
“I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years,” she said of what happened. As for corroboration:
Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.
Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.
She told no one at the time of the incident, she said, because she was only 15 when it happened and thought her parents would be angry that she was at a party where kids were drinking.
Read the story in full and you’ll find an endless tangle of credible elements with more questionable ones. The excerpt above is one example: She did tell someone about this years before Kavanaugh was nominated — but never mentioned his name. She doesn’t remember where or even when exactly the incident happened, but she does remember the names of two other people who were allegedly there. (Neither responded to WaPo’s request for comments.) She passed a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent but her own therapist had notes saying four boys were involved, not two, which Ford blames on a misunderstanding. The way she describes the incident makes it sound like Kavanaugh was attempting a full-fledged sexual assault whereas Judge, who allegedly kept jumping on top of the pair, seems to have been treating it as some sort of prank.
It goes on. If you’re inclined to find professional women more credible (which any feminist would say you should not, as it leads to bias against less educated victims), Ford is a professor who’s been widely published for her academic work. But she’s also a registered Democrat. It’s true that she’s only come forward at the last minute, which reeks of a political hit, but WaPo notes that she first approached Democrats when Kavanaugh was a shortlister this summer, before he’d even been formally nominated. (She apparently sent a tip to the paper too at the time.) Ford says she fully intended to stand aside, thinking Kavanaugh’s confirmation was inevitable, but changed her mind after the Feinstein letter leaked and reporters came knocking. If she was going to be outed and smeared anyway, she claims, she figured she might as well go on the record: “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.” I can understand her fear of being dragged through the mud but Ford surely must have assumed her name would leak when she first sent her letter to Dem Rep. Anna Eshoo. There was too much to gain for Democrats by leaking it. How can she claim she’s being forced to go on the record by the media now? Why did she send the letter, which describes an incident to which she’s the only witness for her side, if she initially didn’t intend to speak further about it?
One thing I always consider in weighing the credibility of a #MeToo story is whether it smells like something someone would say if they were fabricating a story for maximum political/financial impact. What would you say if you had no scruples and wanted to torpedo a political nominee or shake down a wealthy man? The answer in this case, obviously, would be “He raped me.” It wasn’t a fumbling drunken attempt. He knew exactly what he was doing, with full premeditation, and he did it to completion. That’s not what Ford is claiming. If it’s all a lie, why not make it as garish as possible? And why place a third person, Mark Judge, in the room? It’ll only call your credibility further into question when Judge inevitably says, “That never happened.” The details of the story Ford is telling isn’t the story you’d tell if you were concocting it whole cloth. You’d make it worse.
But of course there’s an answer to that argument: A really devious liar would understand that and moderate her story accordingly. A super-garish story is less likely to be believed, precisely because it’s “too perfect.” A less perfect story acquires more of a ring of truth, and a smart person would understand that.
What a nightmare. How one even begins to sort out the truth here, God only knows. Much will depend on what the other two people whom Ford claims were at the party have to say about it, assuming they say anything at all. But even if they pipe up and say “We saw no evidence of wrongdoing,” you know what the response will be. Of course they saw no evidence: It happened upstairs, behind closed doors, and victims often downplay an assault afterwards either out of shame or fear that they won’t be believed. In fact, Ford told WaPo that her attitude for a long time was, “I’m not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.” The fact that Judge says nothing happened either also won’t clear Kavanaugh, as critics will say that he’s either covering for his chum or afraid of admitting to his own complicity in the crime. Kavanaugh could take a polygraph too, I suppose, but that would be an awfully high-stakes interview involving a machine that’s so unreliable it can’t be used in court. What if he told the truth about doing nothing wrong but the machine showed “inconclusive” because he’s stressed and nervous?
It’s a total clusterfark. Needless to say, Ford is right to worry that she’ll be dragged through the mud. And also needless to say, any other women coming forward about Kavanaugh now would be evidence of a pattern of behavior and he’d be toast. I have no idea what Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski will do with this, knowing that Kavanaugh’s already tepid public support is bound to decline further. The *best*-case scenario for the GOP is that they confirm him despite his declining popularity and pay the price to some greater or lesser degree in November. The worst-case scenario is that they pull the nomination, Democrats turn the vacancy into turnout fuel in November, and they take back the Senate, leaving Trump and McConnell stuck with deciding whether to try to ram through Amy Coney Barrett or whoever the replacement is in the lame-duck session. If so, Democrats will point to the Merrick Garland precedent: The voters spoke clearly on Election Day about which party they want to advise and consent on the nominee. It would be anti-democratic to try to confirm Barrett or anyone else before the new Dem majority is seated.
Everything else is muddy but one thing is clear. Red-state Democrats who were hoping for an easy confirmation for Kavanaugh so that they could vote with the GOP to appease voters back home now will have to vote no. If Kavanaugh gets through, it’ll be 51/49 at best. Maybe that ends up working out for the GOP, though, oddly enough. If the right rallies around Kavanaugh as the victim of an alleged dirty trick, which is all but certain to happen, Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill et al. may end up being punished for voting no despite the fact that he’s now been accused on the record of attempted sexual assault. There’s a small but nonzero chance that the Kavanaugh vote may end up helping Dems in the House but helping GOPers in the Senate.
I’ll leave you with these two thoughts.
Legit or not, this allegation was sat on to maximize the chances that it would be too late to confirm a different justice before the midterms. Our political process is entirely unscrupulous at this point, and everyone's culpable and it's goddamn depressing.
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) September 16, 2018
I have zero doubt that the accuser would be seen as highly credible by those doubting it if the tribes were reversed. That I have zero doubts about the backlash I’m open to simply for acknowledging that speaks to how invested we are in narratives.
— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) September 16, 2018
Update: Chuck Grassley and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are unimpressed.
Update: This is the smart play by Democrats.
SCHUMER: “Senator Grassley must postpone the vote until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated.” pic.twitter.com/3P8tpaCzui
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) September 16, 2018
There’s no way Collins and Murkowski will declare today that they’ll oppose Kavanaugh over a lone accuser, particularly when the alleged third person in the room says he has no memory of it happening. But they might agree to split the baby, appeasing their Democratic constituents by endorsing the idea of a delay. That’ll give Democrats time to try to find a second accuser. And even if they can’t, the longer this hangs out there, the more politically painful it is for the GOP. Delays are all upside for the Dems here, and Collins and Murky may feel obliged to allow it as a way to show that they’re taking the accusation seriously.
Update: As a footnote to today’s news, it’s now a mortal lock that the next Republican nominee to the Court will be a woman. The GOP was overdue for that anyway, having had only one woman nominee confirmed in its history (sorry, Harriet Miers), but it’s now a sure thing.
Update: I’ll listen to you, says Lindsey Graham to Ford — but time is of the essence.
My statement on Judge Kavanaugh. pic.twitter.com/QGz3uUyzC9
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) September 16, 2018