On Thursday, Republicans held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Judge Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Ford has alleged that when she was 15 years old and Kavanaugh was 17, she attended a party at an unnamed location on an unnamed date; at that party, she says, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge pushed her into a bedroom where they turned up the music, at which point Kavanaugh jumped on top of her and attempted to pull down her clothing, placing his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams.
The hearing was bound to be a spectacle from inception, largely because Republicans had no idea what the purpose of the hearing was. Democrats, by contrast, knew precisely the purpose of the hearing: to let Ford tell her story, then challenge Republicans to call her a liar by voting for Kavanaugh. The Democrats wanted the hearing to become a liar/not-liar binary decision. They succeeded in that task because Republicans, wanting to avoid charges of sexism, decided to treat Ford with kid gloves and avoid setting an agenda.
Republicans should have made clear their position from the outset: an allegation, no matter how credible, cannot kill a man’s career without a shred of corroborative evidence. Then they should have asked specific questions designed to elicit the fact that Ford has provided no corroborating evidence. They should have called all the witnesses she mentioned to deny on record that they recall such a party (particularly Mark Judge, whom they spoke with but who was not subpoenaed). They should have asked her whether she could lock down location or date — something that could help them corroborate her statements. Such questions would have represented the only reason for having a hearing in the first place: we already knew of her account in writing, and nothing markedly changed from that account. Democrats wanted her to testify so they could obscure her lack of corroborating evidence with emotion. Republicans allowed her to do just that.
Republicans seemed to follow two political paths: first, they attempted to prove that Democratic activity on this score was politically motivated, which is true but insufficient; and second, that Ford’s memory was chock-filled with holes, which was also true but insufficient.
We watched as Republican-appointed prosecutor Rachel Mitchell asked specific questions directed at calling Ford’s honesty or memory into question. Mitchell succeeded in showing that Ford couldn’t remember turning over psychiatric records to The Washington Post, that Democrats had wildly overplayed their hand with regard to Ford’s fear of flying, that she couldn’t remember much about the night in question. But Ford had already undermined just those questions by stating that many of her memories were hazy — but not her memory of Kavanaugh and Judge laughing at her as he lay on top of her. Her account was emotionally resonant. She clearly wasn’t manufacturing the story; she believes what she’s saying is true.
The problem is that there’s no way for us to objectively judge whether it is true without corroborating evidence.
But nobody is asking that question. Which means that from now on, if Kavanaugh goes down, we can assume that an allegation, spoken with force, is a political kill shot. That’s a deeply dangerous standard, and it will come back to bite innocent people, whether or not Kavanaugh is innocent of Ford’s charges.
So, what happens next?
In all likelihood, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) kill the nomination softly by suggesting that they’ll have to hear from all accusers, all witnesses, or kill it outright by saying they believe Ford’s account regardless of any corroborating evidence. President Trump doesn’t withdraw the nomination; he either allows a vote, or Kavanaugh withdraws. Trump then nominates Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and Republicans try to rush her through before the election.
In any case, it would take a minor political miracle for Kavanaugh to gain a Supreme Court seat after today’s hearing — even though it would be better for the country for us to uphold an evidentiary standard without destroying a man’s life.