Ed Whelan: I didn't communicate with Kavanaugh or the White House about my "mistaken identity" theory; Update: PR firm helped

I can’t believe he spent two days boasting that evidence was coming that would prove so compelling that Dianne Feinstein would apologize to Kavanaugh only to produce evidence so dubious that he felt obliged to apologize himself on Twitter this morning. Some who know Whelan, mindful that he’s a Harvard Law grad and a former Scalia clerk, find it so baffling that they’re wondering whether he might have additional evidence of a doppelganger forthcoming.


If so, Whelan wouldn’t have said he was sorry this morning and deleted his Twitter thread, would he? Certainly, if he knew that Team Kavanaugh was planning to advance the theory of a doppelganger at the hearing, he wouldn’t have previewed it offhandedly on social media in a manner so shoddy that it would instantly discredit the theory.

So now we have a new mystery. Did Whelan freelance his theory, which involved publicly naming a former classmate as a possible “real rapist”? Or did he have help from Kavanaugh or someone in the White House? It’s one thing for a semi-anonymous (albeit tapped-in) conservative lawyer to drag some random guy into the middle of a rape controversy. It’s another for a would-be Supreme Court justice or top White House aide to do it. If it turns out that he was put up to this by someone higher up, I think the odds are good that two Senate Republicans will flip to no on the nomination.

Whelan says, or at least implies, that he freelanced it:

Ed Whelan, in a brief interview with The Washington Post, declined to answer further questions about his tweets or views on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination process, which has been upended by the allegation of an assault decades ago.

“I have not communicated at all with [White House counsel] Don McGahn or anyone at the White House, or Judge Kavanaugh, about the topic of the Twitter thread,” Whelan said when reached by phone…

Ford dismissed Whelan’s theory in a statement late Thursday: “I knew them both, and socialized with” the other classmate, Ford said, adding that she had once visited him in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”


Ford’s dismissal reminds me of another baffling aspect of the “mistaken identity” theory. Realistically, how could it be proved? It’s not just far-fetched in a “bad soap-opera plot” way, it’s a strategic dead end insofar as it leaves Ford in the position of saying whether it’s true or not. Here’s how I imagined a hypothetical exchange at the hearing going yesterday, when the doppelganger theory was kicking around:

“Isn’t it true, Dr. Ford, that your high-school boyfriend bore a striking resemblance to Brett Kavanaugh?”
“Yes, and?”
“Wasn’t it in fact your boyfriend who assaulted you?”
“No. Do you really think I couldn’t tell my boyfriend from a complete stranger? How stupid do you think women are?”

To make the doppelganger theory work, you’d need an independent witness to the incident who could identify the doppelganger. Or, almost as good, you’d need a witness to claim that Ford herself once described the attack to that person but named someone other than Kavanaugh as her assailant. Whelan was pushing the “mistaken identity” theory since the start of his tweeting earlier this week, which made me wonder if maybe he did have a witness statement to that effect. Others doubtless did too. Which is why you could almost feel the shockwaves last night when he identified a possible suspect on Twitter seemingly based on nothing more than where he lived (close-ish to all alleged attendees at the party) and his yearbook photo.


Did Kavanaugh provide information to Whelan behind the scenes, like suggesting the name of the supposed “real rapist”? One would think/hope that if his allies were cooking up a theory that required implicating a private citizen in an alleged sex crime they’d have had the basic sense to keep the nominee himself away from it, but who knows. What about Don McGahn, though? What about Leonard Leo, a big cheese in the Federalist Society and one of Trump’s top advisors on judicial nominations? Politico reporter Eliana Johnson noted yesterday that many White House officials and former Kavanaugh clerks were keenly interested in what evidence Whelan might have but that they had no idea what he might be working on. She suggested that the situation might be different with Leo:

Maybe Leo didn’t know either, though. Maybe Whelan merely hinted to him that he had something big cooking and Leo understandably trusted that his well-respected friend wouldn’t be hyping whatever it was unless he had reason to be confident in its accuracy. Oops.

There are other reasons to think Whelan might have had help. As many in the chatterati have noted, it’s possible that he went out and found Kavanaugh’s old high-school yearbook on his own and spent hours studying floor plans of local Maryland homes on Zillow, but that’s the sort of info that an oppo research outfit would be able to gather more quickly (or had gathered already). Whelan also included a curious detail in his tweets about mistaken identity which Stacey Lennox noticed. In trying to zero in on a possible doppelganger, he looked at classmates of Kavanaugh’s whose home might be a short distance from the homes of all other alleged attendees at the party: Kavanaugh, Ford, Mark Judge, Patrick “PJ” Smyth, and a female classmate. Whelan seemed to know the locations of all of those homes, including that of the female classmate — who, as far as I know, hasn’t been named publicly. How would he know who she was?


It could be that an insider provided the name to him without knowing what he was working on or how he would use it. But it at least raises the possibility that he had help on the entire doppelganger theory. (It’s odd, actually, that he was willing to name a random guy as a possible alternate suspect in the attack but not name the female classmate.) At least one critic on Twitter this morning wondered if possibly Mark Judge collaborated with Whelan on the theory, as he would have the yearbook and would know where various acquaintances at the time lived. If Judge helped out on this, that would open up a new can of worms insofar as it would suggest that maybe he *did* remember a particular party at which something supposedly happened to Ford and remembered who was there, in which case the Democratic case for him to testify at the hearing would be that much stronger. But Judge’s role in Whelan’s thread is pure speculation. As is pretty much everything having to do with this clusterfark.

Update: Eliana Johnson’s been digging around, also suspicious that Whelan didn’t freelance his “mistaken identity” theory. She says he did in fact have some help:

CRC Public Relations, the prominent Alexandria, Virginia-based P.R. firm, guided Whelan through his roller-coaster week of Twitter pronouncements that ended in embarrassment and a potential setback for Kavanaugh’s hopes of landing on the high court, according to three sources familiar with their dealings…

After unsuccessful attempts to persuade reporters to chase down a theory he put forward on Twitter — that the high school party described by Ford may have taken place at the home of a particular high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s, and that that classmate may have been the perpetrator of the alleged attack — Whelan worked with CRC’s [president Greg] Mueller to devise a strategy that would draw attention to his theory, according to two sources familiar with his plans. That involved teasing the idea that he would make a big reveal but remaining mysteriously tight-lipped about what he had uncovered.


“It is unclear to what extent Whelan was coordinating with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other Republicans on Capitol Hill,” notes Johnson, but adds that he was in touch with at least one Republican member of the Judiciary Committee who knew that his theory “involved the home of a Kavanaugh classmate near the Chevy Chase Country Club.” Think Democrats will bring any of this up at the Ford hearing?

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023