Hearing shrouded in controversy after allegations of sexual assault surface
The contentious confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was brought to a close on Saturday, after senators voted 50- 48 in favour of his appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Kavanaugh was nominated in July by President Trump to fill the vacancy left by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired on July 31. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing began on September 4, with a vote scheduled for September 20. The vote was postponed after Kavanaugh’s nomination became shrouded in controversy following allegations of sexual assault dating back to his years at Georgetown Preparatory School. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University, contacted local California congresswoman Anna Eshoo within days of Kavanaugh being shortlisted as a potential Supreme Court nominee. She also contacted reporter Emma Brown from the Washington Post on condition of anonymity. According to Brown, “...[S]he was terrified about going public. She didn’t want to speak on the record.”.
Upon hearing her testimony, congresswoman Eshoo brought the matter to ranking senator Dianne Feinstein; the senator promised Dr. Ford that she would accommodate her wish to remain anonymous, and did not bring the matter up during the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearing.
By September 12, however, The Intercept had reported that Senator Feinstein was withholding information pertinent to Kavanaugh’s investigation. After consultation with Dr. Ford, Feinstein relayed her written testimony to the FBI, who proceeded to redact identifying content from the testimony and forward it to the White House. The White House then proceeded to forward the testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee for reference during the Kavanaugh hearing.
Despite Dr. Ford’s wishes to remain anonymous, various reporters and media personnel began working to discover the identity of the victim. Dr. Ford struggled with the choice to go public for quite some time, but ultimately chose to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an extension of Kavanaugh’s hearing for testimony. In her written testimony, she stated:
“My hope was that providing the information confidentially would be sufficient to allow the Senate to consider Mr. Kavanaugh’s serious misconduct without having to make myself, my family, or anyone’s family vulnerable to the personal attacks and invasions of privacy we have faced since my name became public.”
Upon revelation of Ford’s identity, many Republican senators and supporters were convinced that she had cried wolf, emphatically stating that the allegations played into the Democrats’ agenda of blocking right-wing SCOTUS nominations. Others were more empathetic, lending credit to Ford’s highly credible written testimony.
After Dr. Ford testified in person, there seemed to be little doubt regarding her credibility. Ford delivered an incredibly compelling account of the events which occurred during her high school encounter with Kavanaugh; Senate members on both sides of the aisle were visibly shaken. With tears shed and hearts wrenched, it seemed inevitable that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be struck down.
During the televised broadcast of Dr. Ford’s testimony, many Republicans outside the Judiciary Committee felt as though the nomination had been lost. Senator Mitch McConnell, however, did not lose faith. “We’re only at halftime.” Senator McConnell said to a group of despondent Republicans, inelegantly using phrasing so often reserved for the world of sports and play.
At the same time, Kavanaugh was receiving instruction from Donald F. McGahn II, President Trump’s White House counsel. According to the New York Times, Mr. Mc- Gahn assured Kavanaugh that the only way to save his nomination was to channel his outrage and indignation at the charges facing him. As the world would soon see, this was no difficult task for a man already brimming with bitterness and fury.
Heeding his counsel’s advice, Kavanaugh’s testimony managed to evoke the same rage and indignation from many republicans, who blamed the Democrats for orchestrating a smear campaign against Kavanaugh. Speaking across the aisle, Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said:
“Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham. That you knew about it and you held it. You had no intention of protecting Dr. Ford; none.”
Now addressing Kavanaugh: “She’s as much of a victim as you are. God, I hate to say it because these have been my friends. But let me tell you, when it comes to this, you’re looking for a fair process? You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend. Do you consider this a job interview?” “... To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics. You [democrats] want this seat? I hope you never get it.”
Within a matter of minutes, the anger expressed by Kavanaugh and the Republicans of the committee were enough to turn the tides of rage against the innocent - against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle continued to question Kavanaugh, but the atmosphere had clearly changed. In a surprise gesture of good faith, Republican Senator Jeff Flake reached across party lines and called for an FBI investigation into the claims of Dr. Ford and the two other accusers, Julie Swetnick and Deborah Ramirez.
The investigation did occur, though it appeared to be very limited in scope - the FBI interviewed only a small number of those who volunteered to endure the bureau’s scrutiny. Notably, the FBI failed to interview Dr. Ford, Mr. Kavanaugh, Ms. Swetnick, and a number of individuals from both Dr. Ford’s and Mr. Kavanaugh’s past whom had offered to participate in the FBI’s investigation.
Upon receiving the results of the FBI’s investigation, Republicans and Democrats both indicated that the report contained no additional corroborating information. While Republicans largely took this as an indication of invalidity with regards to Dr. Ford’s testimony, Democrats saw the result of an investigation which had clearly been limited in scope. In a press briefing, Democratic Senator Feinstein said:
“Candidly... [the report] looks to be the product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House - I don’t know - but the White House certainly blocked access to millions of documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s record... And ensured that 90% of his emails and memos weren’t available for the Senate or the public in the hearings. It now appears that they also blocked the FBI from doing its job. Democrats agreed that the investigation’s scope should be limited. We did not agree that the White House should tie the FBI’s hands.”
Republican Senator Flake had a much shorter commentary:
“We’ve seen no additional corroborating information”, noting that he needed to finish reviewing the materials. Many Senators added that they had not finished reviewing the materials after commentary, owing to the fact that only one copy of the report was printed. The report was kept within a vault in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, essentially limiting viewing to one Senator at a time; phones and note taking were not permitted inside the vault. A total of one hundred senators had access to the report and were given approximately 24 hours to view and process the information. Some may describe this format of viewing as restrictive.
The FBI report was delivered to Capital Hill at 2:30am Thursday morning, and the Senate Judiciary Committee met again on Friday. A motion to invoke cloture (an end to debate) was held on the first day, resulting in a 51-49 vote in favour. The final senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination occurred the following day, with a 50-48 vote in favour (Republican Senator Steve Daines was absent, and Republican Lisa Murkowski voted “Present” rather than “Yes”). Kavanaugh was officially confirmed to the Supreme Court shortly after the final vote.