Why does Christine Blasey Ford want the FBI to investigate her charges against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee?
Because Blasey knows that she’s telling the truth, and knows what happened to Anita Hill. Just as she and Kavanaugh both know that Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court because, in all probability, he lied ― and was duly rewarded by the forces of patriarchy and partisan politics. Only one of them has an incentive to lie.
That person is not Blasey (who goes by Christine Blasey professionally). Like Anita Hill, who was called “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” after she accused Thomas of sexual harassment, she faces an onslaught of opprobrium which will redefine her life. White male Republicans on the judiciary committee will pick apart every gap in memory to cast her as a mendacious partisan bent on destroying Kavanaugh. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who disdainfully called her “mixed up,” will reprise his contemptuous mistreatment of Hill. Conservative talking heads will insist that she must “prove” her charges. Fixated on cementing the high court’s activist majority, all will ignore everything we’ve learned about the psychological and practical barriers facing a solitary woman subjected to sexual assault.
Applying logic to the charges themselves, there is a very good chance that Blasey’s appalling account is accurate; virtually no chance that it is utterly fabricated. We know how difficult it is for a teenage girl now — and even more so in the 1980s — to charge a man with sexual assault. The “rewards” of reprising such a trauma include shame, shaming, ostracism and self-blame. Faced with inevitable misery, countless girls and women have chosen to choke down their suffering at whatever internal cost.
After paying that psychic price for 30 years, in 2012 Blasey told her husband and her therapist what Kavanaugh had done — a hard thing in any marriage. Her therapist has the notes. It is illogical — indeed inhumane — to imagine that Blasey deviously sought therapeutic help to plant the seeds of Kavanaugh’s destruction should he be nominated to the Supreme Court.
Her account is the most vivid at its most terrifying — a drunken Kavanaugh covering her mouth to suppress screams, causing her to fear suffocation; placing his weight on top of her; wrenching at her swimsuit. She places a witness in the room, Mark Judge — further rendering her an exceedingly incautious, therefore improbable, liar.
“The course Kavanaugh seems set on is a grievous sin ― against her, against the court, and against our political and communal values.”
Her account of escaping after Judge jumped on top of them is equally vivid. Her assertion that this happened at an unsupervised teenage party in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Kavanaugh lived, creates the possibility of further witnesses with a general memory of the party itself. Her gaps in recollection, such as the owners of the house itself, are consistent with what we know about trauma and memory, not to mention the passage of time.
Moreover, there is ample evidence of the social milieu which Blasey describes: that, as teenagers, Kavanaugh and Judge were participants in a drinking culture which combined entitlement with disinhibition. Indeed Judge has written an account of this period, describing himself as a blackout drunk — and referring to a “Bart O’ Kavanaugh” vomiting after excessive drinking.
However candid Judge chose to be in print, he has become more reticent in the wake of Blasey’s charges. He has alternated between denying them and, more persuasively, claiming a lack of memory. He is firm on only one thing: He does not want to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That should not be his choice.
A final curiosity. According to Hatch, Kavanaugh claimed that he did not attend the party in question. How, then, does he know which party Blasey is describing? Did he never attend teenage parties in Montgomery County? Hatch later walked back the statement, but the oddity lingers.
Little wonder, then, that Blasey wants the FBI to investigate her charges — and that Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and Republican senators do not. An FBI inquiry would require Kavanaugh and Judge to give detailed responses. Moreover, it could uncover witnesses who, at least in general, could corroborate the outlines of her story, including both the nature of the party and the drinking culture in which Kavanaugh and Judge were seemingly immersed. For Kavanaugh and his right-wing patrons, nothing good can come of this search for truth.
As of now, it seems likely that the Republicans will try to jam Kavanaugh through the Senate without an FBI investigation, engaging his accuser in a high-stakes inquisition without the support of a genuine investigation. For them, nothing has changed from the playbook they used to trash Anita Hill — which, among its many unsavory features, included preventing testimony from other woman who could corroborate Hill’s account of Thomas’ behavior. This speaks not only to the complete amorality of the confirmation process, but to the glaring power imbalance between Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh.
Blasey is a private citizen, a woman very much alone. Kavanaugh is a polished public figure who has been cosseted since prep school, advancing along a path of privilege opened for him by patrons in the Republican party, and especially the Federalist Society, which grooms ambitious conservatives like Kavanaugh to become politically and ideologically reliable judges. In each step of his advancement ― from spearheading Kenneth Starr’s attack on Bill Clinton for, ironically, lying about sex, to his service in the White House and subsequent appointment to the federal bench ― he has been guided by right-wing ideologues who now expect him, as a justice, to pay his debts.
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh did just that — obscuring or eliding the truth about his beliefs and actions in critical areas, pretending to dispassion where his patrons know better. This is not a process which rewards high character, or fidelity to truth.
Now Kavanaugh faces the Clarence Thomas test. Thomas’ accession tells him that he must unequivocally label Blasey a liar, enabling his sponsors to bulldoze wavering senators. Already he has committed himself to the same blanket denials deployed by Thomas.
If, contrary to reason, Blasey is the partisan fabulist painted by Kavanaugh supporters, this is just. But if she is not, the course Kavanaugh seems set on is a grievous sin ― against her, against the court, and against our political and communal values. The only winners are ideologues for whom truth is not a value, but an impediment to power.
So let us stop to imagine another possibility. That Blasey is telling the truth, at least in essence — but that instead of denying her humanity, Kavanaugh apologizes.
I bitterly regret this, he could say — I lied for the sake of ambition and I’m sickened by the decades of damage I’ve done you. Or, perhaps, I don’t fully remember what happened, but I don’t drink like that anymore. I’m a changed person, appalled by the entitlement and callousness of my teenage self.
I recognize that I advanced this far by suppressing the reality of my actions, believing that Blasey would continue to stifle her pain without revealing that I was the cause. I think I can atone, if at all, only by finally telling the truth and asking other men to draw lessons from my behavior then and now. As to my nomination, I leave it to others to judge me, and accept whatever judgment they render.
Too little too late, one can fervently object. Never worry ― Kavanaugh cannot do this. Not simply because it would likely doom his nomination, but because the corrosive process through which young ideologues become judges creates a mountain of psychic debt. Including telling a terrible lie to advance your patrons’ goals.
Such is the process through which the right elevates judges to our highest court.
Richard North Patterson is the New York Times best-selling author of 22 novels, a former chairman of Common Cause, and a member of the Council On Foreign Relations.