Kavanaugh’s credibility has not survived this devastating hearing

The US supreme court nominee has badly stumbled just as he believed he was striding towards the highest court in the land

Washington: They say there are no heroes and no leaders left in Washington. Well one showed up in front of the Senate judiciary committee, and her name is Dr Christine Blasey Ford.

Victims are supposed to be many things: suffering creatures who struggle to withstand the klieg lights of a court, or a hearing. Dr Ford was something else entirely.

Her pain was clear each time her voice cracked and her eyes welled with tears. But her courage, decency and honesty was even clearer as she walked carefully over ground she plainly never wanted to revisit from her teenage years.

When Democratic senators were trying to score political points, she stuck to the facts as she remembered them, and the science behind why those memories are so vivid. When the Republican prosecutor was trying to poke holes in her credibility and memory, she offered her honest help in patiently answering an endless line of small-bore questions.

The contrast with the US supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could not have been greater. He was hot and bothered from the outset, fiddling with his shirt cuffs, sniffing incessantly, anxiously unscrewing small bottles of water, spraying accusations across the political landscape.

He lapsed into his old role as a political hack, accusing a wide range of actors for his suffering: the media, the Democrats on the judiciary committee, a vast left-wing conspiracy, the Clintons. He predicted political Armageddon as sex was weaponized to destroy reputations, notably his own, as he was just on the verge of success.

“For decades to come I fear the country will reap the whirlwind,” he declared. “When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed, a new tactic was needed. Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready.”

As a federal appeals court judge, Kavanaugh’s performance was jarringly unbalanced and at times unhinged.

As a former staffer to Ken Starr, the man who investigated Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals in excruciating and public detail, Kavanaugh seemed oblivious to his part in the very whirlwind that swept him up.

Republicans had two ways to defend Kavanaugh. One boiled down to mistaken identity: Dr Ford was assaulted, but she couldn’t be sure who. The other revolved around arcane process questions about committee letters and staffers, senators and protocol. The extended debate about process made the Republican chairman Chuck Grassley sound like the grumpy, batty octogenarian he really is.

But the questions about mistaken identity prompted two answers that were as explosive as they were definitive.

Dr Ford was asked about her strongest memory of the assault. The response was deeply moving to anyone with a living, beating heart. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter, and their having fun at my expense,” Dr Ford said, as she turned her eyes down to her lap. “I was underneath one of them while the two of laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.”

Another senator asked Dr Ford what was her degree of certainty about being assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh.

“100%” she said firmly.

In the silence that followed, you could hear Republicans gasping for air as they calculated the political cost of this nomination. What was larger? The number of votes they were losing among women versus the number of votes they would lose among Trump fanatics by putting this flatlining nomination out of its misery.

Senate hearings are political theatre: a strange spectacle with legal trappings designed to showcase the leading actors, the senators themselves. So it was doubly strange to see one half of the actors step offstage and surrender their time to a career prosecutor.

They wanted to avoid the scene of a group of men badgering a woman about sexual assault. Sure enough, they managed to avoid looking like they were staging a witch trial. But by choosing silence they looked worse: like cowards.

While Democratic senators could express sympathy for Dr Ford and the searing memories of her sexual assault, their Republican counterparts gave their time to a technical deposition. The questions by Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, were cold and calculating.

At best the questions were tone deaf. At worst they were uncaring and self-defeating. Far from undermining the credibility of Dr Ford, the prosecutor made the professor look more credible, more human, and more sympathetic.

The same could not be said for the prosecutor’s questions of Kavanaugh. The more he was grilled about sex and alcohol, the worse he sounded. Did he drink to the point where he blacked out, or woke up in a different place, or found his clothes somewhere else? The questions themselves were tarnishing Kavanaugh even as they were intended to clear him.

“We drank beer. And sometimes we probably had too many beers,” Kavanaugh said, clinging to the only talking point that made him seem comfortable. “We drank beer. We liked beer.”

Did he drink too many beers?

“What are too many beers? I don’t know,” he said, seeming totally unprepared to talk about his favourite subject. “Whatever the chart says. The blood alcohol chart.”

The Republican senators soon abandoned the prosecutor and her pesky questions about genitalia and gang rape, resorting instead to angry finger-wagging and complaints about the Democrats.

Aside from his impassioned denials, Kavanaugh’s defence hinged on one claim: that Dr Ford’s friend, Leland Ingham Keyser, didn’t recall the party or Kavanaugh. The judge claimed that meant Dr Ford’s accusations were not just uncorroborated but refuted. But they weren’t refuted, and Keyser also said she believed her friend.

In any case, the judge himself undermined Keyser’s blanket amnesia when he said that actually he knew her, probably at high school.

It was a pattern repeated throughout Kavanaugh’s many angry outbursts and interruptions. He claimed he had no calendar record of the party in question, so it didn’t take place. He even claimed he never attended any gathering of that kind.

But he also said he liked hanging out with his friends, drinking beers, and talking about girls. Which sounded remarkably like the night Dr Ford described.

For a guy who claimed to have concentrated on his academics, it wasn’t clear that Kavanaugh had concentrated on preparing for a hearing that will define his career and reputation. He had no coherent response for why he couldn’t support an FBI investigation into Dr Ford’s account.

When asked what he personally thought about an investigation, Kavanaugh sat in silence before blurting out something about the FBI not coming to conclusions.

Instead, Kavanaugh interrupted Democratic senators to press them on whether they liked to drink, and what they liked to drink. He teared up at strange moments, about his yearbook, his calendars, and his workouts with his football buddies.

The longer the questioning went on, the more he interrupted, the more evasive he sounded. He claimed his yearbook references to throwing up was just because of his weak stomach. It could have been spicy food, or could have been beer. Either way, he really loved beer and still does.

Kavanaugh’s nomination may, or may not, survive the Senate hearing on Thursday. But his credibility, testifying under oath for a lifetime job on the highest court in the land, did not.

Brett Kavanaugh’s former boss might have put it best. “You cannot defile the temple of justice,” Ken Starr intoned to reporters as he was carrying out the trash from his home.

That was back in the late 1990s, when Kavanaugh was, um, defiling the temple of justice by leaking confidential titbits to those same reporters on behalf of Starr.

Two decades later, he and his Republican senator friends were shocked (shocked!) that confidential titbits were getting leaked to reporters. The media was outrageously misreading his yearbook to concoct references to sex and beer. It was a sham, a con, that couldn’t possibly be subject to an FBI investigation because the Democrats were so political.

Nobody should suffer the public whirlwind that has swept up two families, the Fords and the Kavanaughs. No senators should bluster and rage when considering a supreme court nominee.

But more than anyone else in Washington, Brett Kavanaugh should know that he stumbled badly just as he believed he was striding towards his rightful place on the supreme court. You cannot defile the temple of justice when you want your own seat in the inner sanctum of the temple itself.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd


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