The lies that senators must tell themselves to support Brett Kavanaugh
Make no mistake: Brett Kavanaugh’s a liar.
He lies about little things. He lies about big things. He lies under oath.
On Friday, another high-drama day on Capitol Hill, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said he would not support Kavanaugh’s nomination on the Senate floor unless the FBI did a quick investigation into the sexual assault allegation recently lodged against Kavanaugh. The accusation dates to the early 1980s, when the future federal judge was in high school. Kavanaugh denies the allegations, but a credible accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, described them in riveting testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
If Flake sticks by his demand, it may mean the GOP wouldn’t have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh. With such a razor-thin margin, Republican leadership agreed to allow a week for a new background check Friday afternoon.
Any delay, and any real probe, is welcome. After all, a Supreme Court seat is a lifetime appointment. Investigators should try to track down witnesses who can help determine whether Kavanaugh’s denials hold up to scrutiny. The issue here is as much his honesty in the present as what he may have done in 1982.
At the same time, though, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever any inquiry finds about that one incident won’t change the basic reality: Disqualifying information about the Supreme Court nominee is already hiding in plain sight. In such plain sight, in fact, that it takes a willful blindness not to notice it, a calculated effort to look the other way from blatantly deceptive statements dating back more than a decade and continuing through Thursday.
Whatever investigators finds, here’s some of what senators would need to ignore if they want to convince themselves they’re elevating an honest man to the Supreme Court:
• In 2004, Kavanaugh said he was not involved in the handling of the controversial nomination of federal Judge William Pryor. That was a lie. E-mails later showed that he was involved.
• Kavanaugh was asked if he was involved with a scheme to steal Democratic staff e-mails related to judicial confirmations. He lied about it. E-mails showed that he was involved.
• In 2006, Kavanaugh was asked if he was involved in the controversial nomination of federal Judge Charles Pickering. He lied about that too and said he was not.
• In 2006, Kavanaugh was asked about his role in the nomination of William Haynes, the Pentagon general counsel involved in creating the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. He lied about that.
Then, on Thursday, under oath and with the nation watching, he made statements so preposterous that senators should view them as an insult to their intelligence.
• He said the term “devil’s triangle” in his yearbook entry referred to a drinking game. Google it. It doesn’t.
• He said the word “boof” referred to flatulence. Again, no.
• Then there was his assertion that his yearbook description of himself as a “Renate Alumnius” was meant only to signify his friendship with Renate Dolphin, a woman who attended another school and socialized with Kavanaugh. Other football players were described as “Renate Alumni.” We know what they intended to insinuate. You know what they meant to insinuate. Everyone knows. Senators may never be able to establish with forensic certainty that Kavanaugh’s entry was intended as a sexual boast, but they’re allowed to use common sense.
Now, some of those might seem like ticky-tack kind of misstatements. But the pattern starts to look overwhelming. As former FBI director James Comey put it on Twitter: “Small lies matter, even about yearbooks.” The standard jury instruction, he noted, says: “If a witness is shown knowingly to have testified falsely about any material matter, you have a right to distrust such witness’ other testimony and you may reject all the testimony of that witness.”
Kavanaugh’s pattern of dishonesty certainly affects how to view Ford’s accusation that he attacked her when both were in high school. She was highly credible as a witness, passed a polygraph, and, unlike Kavanaugh, has no demonstrated pattern of bending the truth.
But put aside that allegation for a moment, serious as it is. Forget about the FBI inquiry. You can believe that a Supreme Court nominee’s conduct in high school doesn’t matter anyway. You can believe that crass material in a yearbook shouldn’t be held against him as an adult. You can even believe that maybe he genuinely doesn’t remember the assault, which Ford says happened when he was very drunk.
Those are all separate questions from whether he’s been honest.
“Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” said Susan Collins after Ford’s allegations of sexual assault came to light.
Unfortunately, the only way for senators to convince themselves that Kavanaugh hasn’t already been shown to be a habitual liar is to lie to themselves.