The battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a last-minute allegation of sexual assault from his teen years is just gearing up in Washington, DC. Multiple sources are reporting that both Kavanaugh’s allies and the leadership in the White House “plan to play hardball,” as Axios.com put it Monday morning. Some people around President Trump expect him to “go after” the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as he did in the case of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama.
While “Drop Brett, Pick Amy” (as in 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett) has become a conversation on social media among conservative activists, Kavanaugh’s allies are insistent that the White House and Republicans must stick with the nominee.
“It would be crazy to pull nomination at this point,” a source close to the Kavanaugh team told InsideSources. And Politico reports a similar view from the White House. “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something,” their source said.
For his part, Judge Kavanaugh’s only statement has been: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Should the White House make a strategic retreat and withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination, separate from the question of whether the accusation is credible or confirmable? The politics of pulling Kavanaugh’s nomination are tricky. On the one hand, Republicans are already struggling to hold onto support from women voters, and flying directly into the #MeToo moment—and in the face of an anti-GOP media environment—could be disastrous.
On the other hand, the conservative judges are a top priority for Trump’s base, and backing down could be seen as weakness from a candidate they backed (Evangelicals in particular) because he was a fighter who didn’t back down.
In addition, the Democrats’ questionable handling of the allegations—sitting on the story for months, only releasing it at the end of a hyper-partisan campaign denounced as a “circus” even by some Democrats— means many Republicans will only see this as a Democratic dirty trick, regardless of the legitimacy of the accusation.
As one longtime GOP campaign advisor told NHJournal: “Do you really want to use an uncorroborated story from 30 years ago to set the precedent of ‘Democrats accuse, and Republicans quit?’”
But those are the political considerations. Many Kavanaugh supporters don’t want Kavanaugh’s nomination pulled because they are outraged at the personal nature of the attacks.
“Judge Kavanaugh is admired in his church, in his community, and in his profession. Throughout his distinguished career in public service, he has undergone half a dozen FBI background checks, and never a whisper of misconduct,” Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel Carrie Severino said in a statement. “Sixty-five women who were his contemporaries during high school have all come out saying that Brett Kavanaugh was and is a man of character and integrity. Countless women who have known Brett Kavanaugh personally and professionally spanning three decades have all testified to his respect for women, his character, and his integrity.”
“It doesn’t add up,” Severino said. “But what does add up is that Democrats are doubling down on a strategy of character assassination, seeking to destroy the life of a distinguished public servant for the sake of appeasing their base.”
Adam White of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, told InsideSources that, separate from the short-term politics, Kavanaugh deserves better than to be thrown under the bus. “Even if you believe, as I do, Kavanaugh is innocent, there has to be some process by which the judge is given a chance to clear his own name. Without it, his reputation could be ruined.”
“Mrs. Ford should promptly give the Senate everything that supports her accusations, including the lie detector test and any witnesses, and then Judge Kavanaugh should promptly respond to any specific allegation. This needs to be resolved promptly and seriously—for Mrs. Ford’s sake, for Judge Kavanaugh’s sake, for the Senate’s sake and for the Court’s sake,” White said.
People close to the Kavanaugh team are still debating if this is, as one put it “Anita Hill II”– a debate that was apparently resolved Monday morning when Mrs. Ford’s attorney told NBC that Kavanaugh’s accuser is prepared to testify if necessary.
For Kavanaugh defenders who believe it is, the question is whether an investigation—one that’s unlikely to resolve the matter either way—still leaves Kavanaugh’s reputation tarnished.
In the #MeToo moment, is an accusation the same as a conviction? And if it is, what does that mean for future nominees to any office or judgeship, on both sides of the aisle?
UPDATE: Kavanaugh issues a more detailed response and demands his opportunity to defend himself:
This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.
Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.
I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.