If revenge is best served cold, Bill Clinton must be enjoying the moment, as Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination veers off into talk of penises and alcohol-infused parties.
Twenty years ago, Kavanaugh, then an associate counsel in the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, submitted a sanctimonious memo that proposed a series of salacious queries for then-President Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Noting that he was “strongly opposed” to giving Clinton any “break” in the questioning, Kavanaugh wrote, “He should be forced to account” for all that he did, “and to defend his actions.” He then suggested 10 questions, including this one: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”
For Democrats, the chance to raise equally explicit questions about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is a delicious turn of the screw. Kavanaugh, after all, set the table for the cruel partisan politics of personal destruction his fellow Republicans now decry. Two decades later, there’s an obvious lesson in consequences: Live by the sword, and die by it.
The sword got sharper for Kavanaugh with the latest accusation against him. As reported by The New Yorker magazine, a woman who attended Yale with Kavanaugh some 35 years ago described an incident in which he allegedly thrust his penis in her face and caused her to touch it during a dorm party that involved a lot of drinking. The woman, Deborah Ramirez, who is now 53, told the magazine, “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She also recalled another male student shouting, “Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face.” As reporters Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer note, however, Ramirez was initially reluctant to name Kavanaugh as the person who exposed himself to her. The reporters were also unable to corroborate Kavanaugh’s presence at the party.
Kavanaugh denies it all, and calls the accusation “a smear, plain and simple.” He also denies an earlier accusation from Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her at a party when they were high school students. Even though Ford has been fuzzy about details of time and place, she said she’s absolutely certain of Kavanaugh’s identity. She also names Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh’s, as a witness who was in the room when the attack allegedly happened. However, in a letter to committee members, Judge said he has “no memory of this alleged incident” and does not recall the party she describes. He also said he does not “wish to speak publicly” about the allegation.
A man’s career and reputation hang in the balance. On the other side is a woman’s right to be believed, not to mention the country’s right to at least a modicum of faith in the integrity of the next Supreme Court justice. So far, the Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Republicans, has absolutely refused to try to get at the truth of the matter through an independent investigation by the FBI. Ford and Kavanaugh are both scheduled to testify, but so far, no other witnesses have been called.
When Clinton was in the White House, the Republican search for truth knew no limits. In his 1998 memo, Kavanaugh cast it as a matter of patriotism to make the president’s “pattern of revolting behavior clear — piece by painful piece.” If that course weren’t followed, he asked: “Aren’t we failing to fulfill our duty to the American people if we willingly ‘conspire’ with the president in an effort to conceal the true nature of his acts?”
Now, Kavanaugh finds himself at the other end of a painful search for truth. Posing the kind of humiliating questions he outlined for Clinton is one way to give the country a chance to judge his fitness for the highest court in the land. And he has only himself to blame for any dive to the mucky bottom.Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.