Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) threw a last-minute Hail Mary attempt to stop the ascension of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court: an anonymous letter accusing Kavanaugh of sexual impropriety. The accuser was anonymous; the charge was unclear. On Sunday, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault accuser came forward in the pages of The Washington Post. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California, apparently first contacted the Post in July after Kavanaugh began being discussed as a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy, but she didn’t talk with the paper on the record until now. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation,” she stated.
According to Ford, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17, they were at a pool party where both got drunk. Her story continues in her letter:
Brett Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted me during high school in the early 1980's… The assault occurred in a suburban Maryland area home at a gathering that included me and four others. Kavanaugh physically pushed me into a bedroom as I was headed for a bathroom up a short stairwell from the living room. They locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help. Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with [Mark Judge], who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh's hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me. From across the room a very drunken [Judge] said mixed words to Kavanaugh ranging from "go for it" to "stop."
At one point when [Judge] jumped onto the bed the weight on me was substantial. The pile toppled, and the two scrapped with each other. After a few attempts to get away, I was able to take this opportune moment to get up and run across to a hallway bathroom. I locked the bathroom door behind me. Both loudly stumbled down the stair well at which point other persons at the house were talking with them. I exited the bathroom, ran outside of the house and went home…. I have received medical treatment regarding the assault.
Originally, Ford contacted Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who sent Ford’s letter on to Feinstein.
Kavanaugh has said this never happened. “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” he said. Judge says the same. Judge told The Weekly Standard, “I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys. It was an all-boys school, we would rough-house with each other. I don’t remember any of that stuff going on with girls.” He strongly denied witnessing an attempted assault.
On its face, the allegations aren’t non-credible. Ford has come forward, and she’s told a story with specifics. But serious questions remain. Here are six:
1. Why Didn’t Feinstein Come Forward Earlier? Feinstein had every opportunity to ask Kavanaugh about the allegations. She didn’t. She didn’t even share the letter, which she had for weeks, with her Democratic colleagues. Instead, she waited until days before the vote to dump the allegations publicly, and did so without revealing the name, choosing to release this absurd statement:
"I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” she wrote. “That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities."
Furthermore, she referred the matter to the FBI only at that point. All of this looks heavily political – in the interests of justice, she should have come forward earlier.
2. Why Isn’t The FBI Investigating? Feinstein passed along the charges to the FBI. The FBI immediately passed the charges on to the White House instead of investigating. Why? Perhaps it's because the charges are four decades old, non-specific, and impossible to verify.
3. Why Didn’t Ford Tell Anybody About This Incident Until 2012? In many cases of accused sexual assault (see Moore, Roy), accusers told their friends, family, or medical workers about the accusations at the time. This at least time-stamps the accusations. That didn’t happen here: the accuser says she first told no one for three decades. That makes it questionable as to when this even happened, and difficult to track down.
4. Why Do Her Therapist’s Notes Conflict With Her Account? Ford showed her therapist’s notes to The Washington Post. Those notes conflict with her account. The notes don’t include names, instead stating that the alleged perpetrators were “from an elitist boys’ school,” and had since become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes also state that four boys were involved, not two; she says her therapist got it wrong, and that there were four boys at the party but only two boys involved. Another therapy session the following year includes the charge that Ford underwent a “rape attempt” in “her late teens,” but she was allegedly 15 – not late teens – when this incident occurred. Her husband, who was present for the first therapy session, said Kavanaugh’s name was raised, but the Post account doesn’t say that Kavanaugh was called the alleged perpetrator.
5. She Doesn’t Remember Key Details. According to the Post, she doesn’t remember key details:
She said she believes it occurred in the summer of 1982, when she was 15, around the end of her sophomore year at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda. Kavanaugh would have been 17 at the end of his junior year at Georgetown Prep….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.
6. Why Aren’t Any Other Women Coming Forward? In other cases, many women come forward. In fact, it’s difficult to think of another high-profile #MeToo case without multiple accusers. In this case, it’s one woman making an unsubstantiated three-decade-old allegation – the ultimate he-said, she-said. In this case, of course, it’s actually a he-said-he-said-she-said, since there were two men accused of involvement.
You don't have to believe that Ford is lying to believe that these allegations require more substantiation. Thirty-year-old events are difficult to reconstruct; memories change over time. Witness testimony is notoriously unreliable in many cases. And she could be telling the absolute objective truth, of course.
With all of that said, it’s not out-of-bounds for Republicans to call Ford to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee – we need to know more about these allegations. It’s also not inappropriate to delay the vote on Kavanaugh until after such a hearing, or at least until Ford has turned down such an invite. Kavanaugh has already offered to come back and testify on this matter. But allegations alone, without further supporting evidence – even contemporaneous accounts, witness accounts, or corroborating details – should not destroy someone’s life. Kavanaugh deserves more, and so does the appointments process.