"PJ" speaks? Alleged witness to Ford assault says ... no dice

Another potential avenue for corroboration in an allegation against a Supreme Court nominee has declared the road closed. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of Brett Kavanaugh’s classmates identifies himself as one of the two sources that the Washington Post attempted to contact to validate Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault. Not only does Patrick Smyth not recollect being at a party with two principals, he declared through his attorney that he “never witnessed any improper conduct by Brett Kavanaugh towards women,” according to CNN:

Patrick J. Smyth attended Georgetown Prep — an all-boys school in North Bethesda, Maryland — alongside Kavanaugh. Both men graduated in 1983. Smyth signed a letter this summer, before the allegations against Kavanaugh were made public, testifying that Kavanaugh “is singularly qualified to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” along with dozen other of the school’s alumni.

Eric Bruce, who is representing Smyth, authored a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee. CNN has obtained a copy of the letter, which includes a quote from Smyth denying seeing any “improper conduct” from Kavanaugh.

“I understand that I have been identified by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the person she remembers as ‘PJ’ who supposedly was present at the party she described in her statements to the Washington Post,” Smyth says in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

“Personally speaking, I have known Brett Kavanaugh since high school and I know him to be a person of great integrity, a great friend, and I have never witnessed any improper conduct by Brett Kavanaugh towards women. To safeguard my own privacy and anonymity, I respectfully request that the Committee accept this statement in response to any inquiry the Committee may have.”

If you haven’t yet heard of “PJ” in the Kavanaugh-Ford saga, you’re not alone. The original Post article never mentions “PJ” by name, but it does state that Ford provided two more names of people who were at the party besides herself, Kavanaugh, and Mark Judge. Neither of the two potential witnesses wanted to talk to the reporter at the time:

Ford said she does not remember how the gathering came together the night of the incident. She said she often spent time in the summer at the Columbia Country Club pool in Chevy Chase, where in those pre-cellphone days, teenagers learned about gatherings via word of mouth. She also doesn’t recall who owned the house or how she got there.

Ford said she remembers that it was in Montgomery County, not far from the country club, and that no parents were home at the time. Ford named two other teenagers who she said were at the party. Those individuals did not respond to messages on Sunday morning.

How did Smyth know about “PJ”? It appears that the reporter dropped that information into the messages left on Sunday morning. If that’s true and Smyth is the “PJ” cited by Ford, this is a rather significant hit to the credibility of the accusation. That would make three named people in Ford’s story who deny it ever happened, and this one would be the first of those not actually accused of wrongdoing.

Is Smyth lying? If so, it’s tough to see why he would. Smyth would have no reason to cover up for Kavanaugh as he would face no legal consequences for an assault, even if just theoretical. His flat denial of the allegation doesn’t have any specific benefit for Smyth, which makes it all the more compelling.

We have yet to hear from the second unnamed witness, which might change things, maybe, assuming that witness has more specific recall of the party than Ford does. Even if all that witness says is that she saw Kavanaugh, Judge, and Ford at the same residence for a party at the same time, that might make things a little less comfortable for Kavanaugh and his supporters. But it’s been days already with no response from that unnamed alleged witness, and the other disinterested witness has now flatly refuted the allegation. That might be one reason why Ford seems a lot less interested in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee than her lawyer initially led people to believe.

This is why, as I wrote today at The Week, we should wait to see evidence before presuming allegations are true, contra Joe Biden:

[W]e have a principle in American jurisprudence that goes back to the writing of our Constitution. It establishes a presumption of innocence in a crime until proven guilty. Kavanaugh is not being prosecuted now, but the values remain the same.

Unfortunately, that shared sense of American justice seems to have vanished. In its place are demands to assume that allegations are true, with the burden of proof on the accused to disprove them. …

Shifting the burden of proof on Senate confirmations, appointments, and elections changes all the incentives for public service. If we are not to evaluate claims on “facts” in order to determine whether the “essence” actually is “real,” then what should form the basis of our evaluation? Whether or not we like the accused? Which party does he or she represent, or which party appointed him?

This is not a recipe for justice, but instead an environment for bare-knuckled politics and a breeding ground for a return to Salem circa 1692. Such an environment will repel men and women of goodwill and good character from public service, incentivizing only the most insensitive and impervious personalities to choose to serve. That will lead to even further degradation of public discourse and an erosion of trust in institutions, which will make witch hunts and smear campaigns even more likely.

In some ways, we’re already there.

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