U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in responding to sexual assault and misconduct allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and a previously unnamed woman who went public Wednesday, Julie Swetnick, has gone far beyond denying the women’s specific claims. Instead, he has made broad claims so easily disproven that one can only conclude he isn’t very concerned with whether they withstand scrutiny. Like those of the president who nominated him, Kavanaugh’s misstatements don’t appear to be anything but an assertion that he is too powerful and too important for the facts to matter.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Kavanaugh repeated four times that he had “always treated women with dignity and respect,” even as a teenager. That same night, the New York Times published evidence that, no—as is sometimes the case with teenage boys—he had not always treated women with dignity and respect. Throughout Kavanaugh’s senior yearbook, including on the page Kavanaugh authored for himself, are references to boys being “Renate alumni.”
Renate, whose full name is Renate Schroeder Dolphin, was a girl who attended a nearby school. Classmates of Kavanaugh’s who identified themselves as Renate alums in the yearbook denied to the Times that this was a joke about having hooked up with her, claiming it was merely a reference to having gone on dates with her. In Kavanaugh’s case, his spokesperson claimed, he had taken her to a school event and briefly kissed her. Dolphin didn’t know until recent days that she had been mocked in the Georgetown Prep yearbook. She called the insinuation “horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.” She also says Kavanaugh is mistaken about ever having kissed her.
A person interested in making a plausible claim in light of the documentary evidence—especially when, based on timing, he had just made a comment through a spokesperson to the Times on the matter—would have said that back when he was a young man he sometimes made distasteful and disrespectful jokes about women, but that he’d matured. (And a person who currently treats women with dignity and respect would publicly apologize to Renate for the nasty joke he made in the past and the current embarrassment it has caused her. Kavanaugh appears to have done neither.)
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But Kavanaugh’s story is that he is and always has been a gentleman, too consumed in high school with basketball, service projects, and church to cause any trouble. In the Fox News interview, he downplayed the hard partying that was reportedly typical at Georgetown Prep by claiming—falsely—that it was legal for 18-year-olds to drink in the state. This is another bizarre thing to lie about given how easy it is disprove: Though the drinking age was 18 in nearby Washington, D.C., the summer before Kavanaugh’s senior year, Maryland changed the drinking age to 21. Kavanaugh was 17 at the time.
Even if one wanted to be especially charitable and assume he somehow forgot when he came of legal drinking age, the idea that a judge would misstate the law in responding to a completely predictable question about his drinking indicates his lack of concern with responding to the allegations against him accurately. In fact, Kavanaugh must be aware states were raising the drinking age to 21 around that time, because it is the subject of a famous Supreme Court federalism case, South Dakota v. Dole, in which the Court upheld a 1984 federal law that penalized those states that did not raise the age with a loss of federal highway funds. The Court had to get around that ruling in the Affordable Care Act case, NFIB v. Sebelius, to rule that the federal government could not coerce states to expand Medicaid by withholding funding.
Kavanaugh also dismissed the idea that he habitually drank to excess, claiming “people might have had too many beers on occasion” but he never drank so much his memory of events might have been impaired. This is despite the many classmates of Kavanaugh’s who have attested to his hard drinking, his own yearbook page being rife with references to alcohol, and speeches in which he’s joked about binge drinking and quipped, “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.” It’s one thing to deny a specific allegation, but Kavanaugh is claiming—entirely unnecessarily—that he was a choir boy when anyone familiar with his own statements knows that can’t have been the case.
The Fox News interview follows the same pattern as the hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Kavanaugh also did not provide plausible answers when asked about the reported mistreatment of women by his friend and mentor, retired Judge Alex Kozinski. Women who accused Kozinski of being a serial harasser say his behavior was an “open secret,” but Kavanaugh claims he had no idea. As former Kozinski clerk Heidi Bond writes for Slate:
And, in response to a written question for the record—“Has Judge Kozinski ever made comments about sexual matters to you, either in jest or otherwise?”—Kavanaugh responded, “I do not remember any such comments.”
This last response leaves me wondering whether Kavanaugh and I clerked for the same man. Kozinski’s sexual comments—to both men and women—were legendary.
When asked in written questions about one specific way he might have been put on notice of Kozinski’s behavior, Kavanaugh would not deign to respond. When asked if he was on an email list in which Kozinski sent sexually explicit jokes and whether he had searched his email accounts to ensure his answer was accurate, Kavanaugh twice responded with the non-answer: “I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.”
The picture that emerges from Kavanaugh’s dubious statements on this and other topics is that he is not particularly concerned with convincing anyone who is trying to make a good-faith determination about his credibility. Kavanaugh abandoned the pretense that judges are above politics—or even aspire to be—by going on a partisan network famous for harboring unrepentant abusers of women like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. While there, he responded to softball questions with obvious, laughable untruths: making it clear that he doesn’t think he owes us accurate answers because his team is in power and they don’t care what he’s done.
This is straight out of the Trump playbook. Bob Woodward reported in Fear: Trump in the White House that Trump once advised a friend who admitted sexual misconduct to him that he should “Deny, deny, deny.” The boldness of Trump’s lies—claiming every woman who has accused him of assault is a liar, that the death toll in Puerto Rico was fabricated by Democrats, that his inauguration crowd was the biggest in history, and on and on—are an assertion of power. They are the tactic of the authoritarian to tell the world facts are irrelevant, and what matters is whether you are for or against him.
On Thursday, Kavanaugh will likely repeat his claims to have been a Boy Scout who never ever behaved less than honorably with women. Ford will tell her story in the absence of any testimony from other witnesses who could help us assess who is telling the truth, because that isn’t the goal. Senate Republicans like Mitch McConnell (KY) and Lindsey Graham (SC) have been quite explicit about the fact that they won’t care if Kavanaugh’s testimony isn’t credible. With information that there would likely be allegations in addition to Ford’s, as there were from Ramirez and now Swetnick, Republicans reportedly tried to speed up the process of getting him confirmed.
For many women, even in the post-fact world of Trump and with the lowest opinion of the Republicans that stand by him, this open acknowledgement that whether Kavanaugh is lying is irrelevant—because the abuse of women doesn’t matter if a man has been deemed a “decent,” accomplished man by the men who do matter—is a painful betrayal. It is the ultimate denial of respect and dignity to women.