The testimonies of both Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, under oath before a Senate committee, were impassioned. They also directly contradicted each other. Something’s got to give.
The prospect that Ford has fabricated an accusation of such gravity, on pain of perjury and at immense reputational cost to herself and her family, is so negligible that it’s unworthy of suspicion. Although it’s possible, strictly speaking, that she’s mistaken about Brett Kavanaugh, it is certainly impossible that she’s lying. Such was the anguish with which she recounted the memory of being trapped underneath her attacker, and the vivid details she offered regarding that frightening episode, that her credibility is beyond question.
If there’s any weakness in her story, it’s the reliability of her memory 36 years later. She’s somehow certain that she consumed only one beer that summer day in 1982, for example, even though she can’t recall how she arrived at the house where the attack allegedly took place, and how she returned home. However, she remains unflinchingly adamant that a very-drunk Brett Kavanaugh was the boy who held her down on a bed and covered her mouth when she screamed for help. She honestly believes it was him.
Kavanaugh, for his part, was equally emotional in his defence testimony. This is a man who knows that, rightly or wrongly, his reputation is now sullied forever. He communicated recognition of that damage bluntly to the Senate committee, calling the confirmation process a “national disgrace” and accusing Democrats of replacing their role of “advise and consent” with “search and destroy.” He flatly denies assaulting Ford or anyone else, and even denies having been at the summer gathering she speaks of. I think he honestly believes he is innocent.
Which is not necessarily the same as being innocent.
A Democratic senator pointed out that Kavanaugh has welcomed an investigation to determine the veracity of Ford’s claim, yet when pressed on said ‘willingness’, it became clear that Kavanaugh doesn’t want the F.B.I. anywhere near this story. Maybe that’s simply because, even if he’s innocent, an F.B.I. investigation makes for bad headlines. It’s also true that the Democrats would love to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote on the eve of the midterm elections, for political purposes. The fact remains, however, that an innocent person should in theory be willing to submit to further scrutiny to clear their name, yet Kavanaugh remains recalcitrant.
He said, she said
We can narrow the likelihood of possibilities using some basic logic, starting with Ford’s point of view:
- Is it likely Ford would say nothing if attack never occurred? Yes (no story)
- Is it likely Ford would say nothing if attack did occur? Maybe (no story)
- Is it likely Ford would falsely accuse someone if attack never occurred? No
- Is it likely Ford would accuse someone if attack did occur? Probably
Of the four possible scenarios, only the one in which she was truly assaulted is actually likely (whether or not she’s accusing the correct person).
Now consider the equivalent scenarios from Kavanaugh’s point of view:
- Is it likely Kavanaugh would admit to assault if he wasn’t responsible? No
- Is it likely Kavanaugh would admit to assault if he was responsible? No
Note that regardless of what actually happened, Kavanaugh will deny responsibility. Weighing the two perspectives like this shows that Ford is more credible. To be fair to Kavanaugh, however, he doesn’t deny that Ford may have been assaulted — he simply denies that he was the perpetrator. Our analysis, so far, doesn’t dispute his denial. But it does show, based on each party’s motives, that other things being equal, Ford should be given a greater benefit of the doubt.
We can rank the plausibility of possible scenarios in descending order of likelihood (1=most likely, 6=least likely):
- Kavanaugh assaulted Ford. Ford accuses him. Kavanaugh denies.
- Ford was assaulted, but not by Kavanaugh. Ford mistakenly accuses him. Kavanaugh denies.
- Kavanaugh assaulted Ford. Ford accuses him. Kavanaugh admits to assault.
- No assault took place. Ford fabricates accusation. Kavanaugh denies.
- No assault took place. Ford fabricates accusation. Kavanaugh admits to assault he didn’t commit.
- No assault took place. Ford doesn’t accuse anyone. There’s no story.
Given that Ford’s claim of having been assaulted by someone is very compelling, either #1 or #2 is almost certainly true. Was Kavanaugh the perpetrator? She insists he was. If we are to believe this, we must find a way to square it with the picture we have of a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh.
The glory days
Passages from Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry such as “Summer of ’82 — Total Spins” and “100 Kegs or Bust” give us an idea about one of his favourite pastimes as a teenager. One senator asked him if “Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor” was a reference to alcohol. Kavanaugh was evasive:
Senator, I was the top of my class academically. Busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got into Yale College. When I got into Yale College, [I] got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.
Senator (asking again): “And…did the word ‘ralph’ relate to alcohol?”
I already answered the question. I like beer. I like beer. I don’t know if you do — Do you like beer, senator? What do you like to drink?
Not the most forthcoming answer. Kavanaugh seems to think that excelling physically and scholastically should somehow negate germane details about his excessive teenage drinking habits. It wouldn’t be the first time that a young man with an ego felt he could be reckless with impunity.
It didn’t end there. When queried on his friendship with Mark Judge — the other boy Ford alleges was present at the time of her assault, and the author of Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk — Kavanaugh deflected again:
Senator: “[In his book, Mark Judge] references a ‘Bart O’Kavanaugh’ vomiting in someone’s car…and passing out. Is that you?”
Mark Judge was a friend of ours in high school who developed a very serious drinking problem, an addiction problem, that lasted decades, and was very difficult for him to escape from. He nearly died. Then he had leukemia as well, on top of it. As part of his therapy…he wrote a book that is a fictionalized book…I think he picked out names of friends of ours, to throw them in as, kind of close to, characters in the book. So, we can sit here and make fun of some guy who has an addiction. I don’t think that’s really good.
Really, Brett? That’s desperate. (Nothing pisses me off more than people who beat around the bush to avoid answering straightforward questions.) Talk about bad faith.
When asked by Rachel Mitchell, a specialist prosecutor brought in by the Senate to aid in parsing the testimonies, whether he had ever blacked out from binge-drinking, Kavanaugh denied that he had. He then went a step further, insisting that he had never even experienced foggy or fragmented memories due to drinking.
That insistence doesn’t sit well with what his peers remember. James Roche, who was Kavanaugh’s roommate at the time of a separate alleged incident involving a different woman during their freshman year at Yale, told the New Yorker that he recalls Kavanaugh being “frequently, incoherently drunk.” (That’s right: there are at least two additional, separate allegations involving Kavanaugh.) Another former classmate, Elizabeth Swisher, told the New York Times that she “saw him very drunk many times and there is no way he remembers everything about every night.”
Okay, so Kavanaugh apparently got very drunk sometimes as a young man. Who hasn’t? That doesn’t make him guilty of sexual assault.
No, but it does introduce the possibility that he may have forgotten some of his past actions, which is where his and Ford’s impassioned testimonies could finally overlap.
It’s no wonder he would deny having ever lost memory. Admitting to that would shred his testimony’s reliability, pulling apart at the seams his shot at a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the United States. Kavanaugh’s desperation to distance himself from his heavy-drinking days makes his side of the story decidedly less plausible than Ford’s.
The question is this: What’s more likely? That Christine Ford misremembers Brett Kavanaugh as her assailant? Or that Kavanaugh was so drunk that he doesn’t remember assaulting her?
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