This couldn’t go on forever. This was tearing the country apart and this had to happen:
The White House prepared late Wednesday to send the FBI’s completed report on Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Senate, as partisan rancor continued to grow over the scope of the investigation into sexual assault allegations that have endangered his confirmation.
This report would neither solve nor resolve a thing, but it was the last bit of business that needed to be wrapped up, and now it’s done:
The latest FBI probe updating Kavanaugh’s background check was set to arrive Wednesday night on Capitol Hill, according to two people familiar with its release. White House officials have been briefed on the FBI’s findings, the people said.
In anticipation of the report’s arrival, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night teed up a key vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday. Until that vote, senators will be rushing in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to review the sensitive FBI report that the bureau has compiled, looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.
“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote,” McConnell said Wednesday night.
Not so fast there:
The developments came as Senate Democrats opened a new front in their objections to the investigations of Kavanaugh’s conduct, suggesting in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that past FBI background checks of Kavanaugh include evidence of inappropriate behavior, without disclosing specifics.
All the Republicans shrugged. Maybe there were past FBI reports of inappropriate behavior of file somewhere, but that was then and this is now – and they really didn’t have to listen to the perpetually outnumbered Democrats, so that went nowhere, and that was that:
Once the FBI report is sent to the Hill, it will be available at a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, in the Capitol Visitor Center, a secure room designed for senators to review sensitive or classified material, two Senate officials said. Just one physical copy of the report will be available, and only to senators and 10 committee staffers cleared to view the material.
The two parties will take turns having access to the FBI report in shifts, according to a senior Senate official. For example, Republicans will spend an hour with the report from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. Thursday, and then Democrats will have an hour with the report. It will rotate throughout the rest of the day Thursday and potentially into Friday, with senators being briefed by staff members simultaneously.
There are one hundred senators and only one copy of this report each of them can examine – briefly but no photos and no notes – which seems a bit odd, as does this:
Even before the report was formally sent to the Senate, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford – the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault – criticized what they viewed as an incomplete FBI probe.
“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – or the witnesses who corroborate her testimony – cannot be called an investigation,” her legal team said in a statement. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”
Some might see it that way:
The FBI background check of Brett M. Kavanaugh appeared to remain curtailed in its scope Wednesday even as agents neared the end of their work, opening up the possibility that the bureau would again face criticism over what some will view as a lackluster investigation.
Though complete details of the FBI’s findings had yet to be released Wednesday evening, the bureau’s inquiry seems to have focused mostly on an allegation by a California professor who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her decades ago at a party in Maryland, when both were high school students.
The Washington Post has been able to confirm interviews with only six witnesses, five of whom have a connection to the professor or her allegation.
The investigation was always unlikely to answer definitively whether Kavanaugh was guilty of sexual misconduct decades ago. But the probe’s limited scope – which was dictated by the White House, along with a Friday deadline – is likely to exacerbate the partisan tensions surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination.
That was inevitable:
President Trump has insisted publicly he was not curtailing the FBI probe. But privately, the White House restricted the FBI from delving deeply into Kavanaugh’s youthful drinking and exploring whether he had lied to Congress about his alcohol use, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Some of those involved in the case complained that the bureau did not follow leads that were offered to it.
The FBI, for example, interviewed Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing his penis to her at a gathering when both were college students at Yale, and Ramirez’s team provided agents with more than 20 people who might have information relevant to her claims. But as of Wednesday, Ramirez’s team had no indication that the bureau had interviewed any of them.
Someone at the White House told the FBI not to go there, so the FBI didn’t go there. It’s now too late to complain about that. The report was submitted. The guy will be confirmed, and this doesn’t matter:
More than 1,000 law professors have signed onto a letter saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial restraint at a Senate hearing last week, behavior that would be disqualifying for any court nominee.
Kavanaugh was responding to accusations from a California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, that he sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were teenagers in the 1980s. At the hearing, he vehemently defended his innocence and derided what he called “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.”
Afterward, law professors across the country began discussing “with great distress, the unprecedented and unfathomable demeanor of Judge Kavanaugh,” said Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia Law School.
The letter, which is directed to the U.S. Senate, grew out of those conversations. “It was a spontaneous reaction to the hearing,” Harcourt said.
It was more than spontaneous:
The groundswell was overwhelming, he said, with more than 1,000 lawyers signing on within 30 hours from nearly 100 law schools. Signatories included Martha Minow, the former dean of Harvard Law School — where Kavanaugh taught a popular course – and some scholars who previously supported Kavanaugh.
Harcourt said they signed out of concern about a rush to judgment, in the belief that for the Senate to elevate Kavanaugh “without full information and deliberation to the Supreme Court would undermine the respect owed” to the institution.
The law professors were not alone:
The nation’s largest coalition of Christian churches on Wednesday called for the withdrawal of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.
The National Council of Churches, which has membership from more than 40 denominations including most major Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations in the U.S., wrote in a statement on their website that they believe Kavanaugh has “disqualified himself from this lifetime appointment and must step aside immediately.”
These were not the prosperity-gospel white evangelicals – the “Jesus was a Republican who loved guns and hated Mexicans and gays” crowd – the “real” Christians. They were more traditional:
The statement cited a number of reasons for the demand, including Kavanaugh’s behavior during his recent testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on sexual assault allegations against him.
“Judge Kavanaugh exhibited extreme partisan bias and disrespect towards certain members of the committee and thereby demonstrated that he possesses neither the temperament nor the character essential for a member of the highest court in our nation,” the statement read.
So temperament was an issue, as was this:
The National Council of Churches alleged that Kavanaugh’s testimony included “several misstatements and some outright falsehoods,” including some related to Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the 1980s.
The group also pointed to what they called Kavanaugh’s “troubling” judicial and political record on some civil rights issues.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s extensive judicial and political record is troubling with regard to issues of voting rights, racial and gender justice, health care, the rights of people with disabilities, and environmental protections,” they wrote. “This leads us to believe that he cannot be an impartial justice in cases that are sure to come before him at the Court.”
They don’t like it that this guy doesn’t like the poor or minorities or the planet, but that’s not all:
The group later added to their statement, saying they are “deeply disturbed” by the assault allegations against Kavanaugh and calling for “a full and unhindered investigation of these accusations,” according to Religion News Service.
And that’s not all:
James Roche, one of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s freshman year roommates at Yale, said Wednesday that Kavanaugh lied under oath about his drinking and about the meaning of his yearbook entries.
In an op-ed for Slate, Roche writes, “Brett Kavanaugh stood up under oath and lied about his drinking and about the meaning of words in his yearbook. He did so baldly, without hesitation or reservation.”
“In his words and his behavior, Judge Kavanaugh has shown contempt for the truth, for the process, for the rule of law, and for accountability,” Roche added. “His willingness to lie to avoid embarrassment throws doubt on his denials about the larger questions of sexual assault.”
That’s still an open question:
Roche writes he does not know if Kavanaugh attacked Ford in high school or exposed himself to Ramirez in college, “But I can say that he lied under oath.”
In the Slate op-ed, Roche notes he was raised in a Republican family – his mother was a Republican state representative in Connecticut and “my father owns a MAGA hat.”
“This is not about drinking too much or even encouraging others to drink,” Roche writes. “It is not about using coarse language or even about the gray area between testing sexual boundaries with a date and sexual abuse. This is about denial. This is about not facing consequences. This is about lying.”
“I was not a choirboy, but – unlike Brett – I’m not going on national television and testifying under oath that I was,” Roche continued.
Fine, but the FBI won’t speak with him, or anyone, except for their six witnesses. They sent what they had to the White House and that was enough – White House Finds No Corroboration of Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Kavanaugh in FBI Report – case closed.
But this case was always about something else, as Greg Sargent explains here:
Just after Sen. Jeff Flake announced last week that he was going to vote to move Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination out of committee, the Arizona Republican found himself cornered by two angry women. One virally told Flake that by voting for Kavanaugh, “you’re telling all women that they don’t matter,” and “that they should just stay quiet, because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them.”
Flake took this to heart. When he subsequently insisted that the FBI must examine Christine Blasey Ford’s charges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, Flake offered this as a means “to bring this country together.” Flake argued that “this country is being ripped apart here, and we’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence” by taking Ford’s claims seriously. Only after that, Flake suggested, can the country “move on.”
In other words, Flake – who was joined in this by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – stood for the proposition that a precondition for healing the country’s divisions over the Kavanaugh affair is to treat Ford’s claims with a seriousness of purpose commensurate with the gravity that millions of people across the country assign to the issue of sexual violence, many of those people themselves being survivors of it.
And there’s that other guy:
When President Trump attacked Ford at a rally on Tuesday night, he did more than merely showcase his typically depraved and hateful nature. What Trump really did was inform the country in no uncertain terms that he will do all he can to ensure that the country does not – and cannot – heal its searing divisions over the Kavanaugh matter, after it is resolved.
Trump ridiculed the gaps in Ford’s memory: “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How did you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember.” Trump contrasted this mockery with an outpouring of sympathy, if he is capable of such a feeling, for Kavanaugh: “A man’s life is in tatters,” he said, adding: “Think of your husbands. Think of your sons.”
In this, Trump broke from the carefully crafted GOP strategy of refraining from questioning that the attack happened while suggesting it might have been carried out by someone else. Instead, Trump ridiculed the claim itself and insisted that the only true victim in this situation is Kavanaugh.
Sargent then draws this conclusion:
What Trump is really signaling here is that, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will continue to rub the faces of millions of women in excrement over it. Trump was doing precisely what that woman accused Flake of doing – telling women that their sexual assault claims “don’t matter” – and he was undertaking this provocation deliberately, using the bully pulpit of the presidency to do so…
The three GOP senators who will decide Kavanaugh’s fate expressed shock and horror at Trump’s remarks. Flake said they are “appalling.” Collins claimed they were “wrong.” Murkowski said they were “unacceptable.” However, Flake was quick to add that Trump’s comments won’t impact his decision on Kavanaugh, because “you can’t blame other people for what the president says.”
In short, no one should blame anyone for any of this. Don’t blame Kavanaugh for Trump being a jerk. These things happen:
This entire process has been heavily shaped by the very same sentiments Trump expressed at the rally. When he attacked Ford, his supporters cheered lustily. Trump is feeding his supporters’ grievances and prejudices with material fashioned, in a sense, out of genuine pain and anguish extracted from millions of others who see Ford as an icon of enormous cultural and political importance. This is not simply an inevitable byproduct of a polarizing debate. It is deliberate: Trump believes he profits politically off this division. The procedural treatment of Ford throughout cannot be neatly severed from this impulse.
That may be so, and Sargent also sees this:
President Trump was asked Tuesday afternoon by a reporter if he has a message for “young men in America.” Trump said this:
“It’s a very scary time for young men in America, when you may be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. It really does. You could be somebody that was perfect your entire life, and somebody could accuse you of something … and you’re automatically guilty. But in this realm, you are truly guilty until proven innocent. That’s one of the very, very bad things that’s taking place right now.”
Put aside for now the absurd idea that Trump is motivated by any vision of moral desert of any kind. Also put aside the fact that Trump has no discernible worry about how our criminal-justice system dispenses profoundly unjust sentences and punishments to countless “young men in America,” many of whom are of course minorities. What’s remarkable about this is how perfectly pitched this is to Trump’s obviously intended audience – that is, his blue-collar white male base…
The reason I bring this up is to add to Ron Brownstein’s new piece, which argues that perceptions of the Kavanaugh affair are deeply shaped not just by the gender divided, but by the class divide as well. Brownstein’s is more focused on how this is playing out among women. He notes that college-educated white women are far more likely to sympathize with Ford than non-college-educated white women are. This is part of a broader pattern in which the Trump era has driven a heavy backlash among educated white women who have tended to tilt Republican, giving Democrats an opening to lock in big gains among that demographic.
But it’s more than that:
The cultural, racial and gender schisms that Trump is very consciously trying to widen, through deliberate provocations of one kind or another, may only be deepening his bond with non-college-educated white men. When Trump presents Kavanaugh as the true victim in this situation, and when he sweepingly declares that the moral of the Kavanaugh story is that men across America are in great danger of unfair persecution, he seems to know exactly what he’s doing.
Paul Waldman agrees with that, but in an odd way:
The day after Christine Blasey Ford testified about the sexual assault she says she suffered at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump told reporters, “I thought her testimony was very compelling … she was a very credible witness.” It was one of those moments when what his aides had begged him to say was obvious: Don’t attack her, sound sympathetic, but make clear that you believe Kavanaugh. They might have even thought they could keep him in check all the way until a vote is taken on the nomination.
It was a silly hope – this is Donald Trump we’re talking about here, Mr. “grab-em-by-the-pussy,” who has been accused of various kinds of sexual misconduct by a dozen women. That he could keep that act up for a day was a miracle; a week would have been impossible.
So inevitably, on Tuesday at a rally in Mississippi, Trump let loose with an attack on Ford. But this might not be just his feelings outrunning what any sensible person would advise.
Again, Trump might know exactly what he’s doing.
It’s always questionable to attribute what Trump does, particularly what he does in front of a crowd of supporters where everyone is luxuriating in their resentment and contempt, to some clever and carefully planned strategy. But if he was trying to alienate the senators he’ll need to get Kavanaugh confirmed, then mission accomplished. Jeff Flake called it “kind of appalling.” Lisa Murkowski said, “The President’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate.” Susan Collins said, “The President’s comments were just plain wrong.” Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who channeled his own righteous rage at the supposed mistreatment of Brett Kavanaugh, said he would tell the president, “Knock it off. You’re not helping.”
Let me suggest something crazy: That might be okay with Trump. It might even be okay with him if Kavanaugh gets voted down, because he could fill the seat with someone else (perhaps in a lame-duck session after the election but before the new Congress is seated), and still manage to fuel the backlash among men that he is plainly trying to promote.
Waldman thinks that is what this is all about:
As Trump looks over the political horizon, there are three major events on his mind. The first is this nomination, the second is the November election, and the third is his reelection campaign. If you’re Donald Trump, you want all those contests to turn on the politics of backlash.
That, after all, is how he became president. Other Republicans believed that their party needed to become more conciliatory, to reach out to Latino voters and young voters, to present a less angry face. Trump did exactly the opposite: He promoted resentment and fear, on the theory that a backlash against immigrants and women like Hillary Clinton and cultural change could get him to the White House. And it worked.
Since then, he has made amply clear that he isn’t going to become a president for all Americans. He sees political division not as an unfortunate reality but as his ticket to success. He wants voters angry and afraid, because if they are, that means they might support him.
So he may want Kavanaugh to go down in flames:
Trump has watched as a backlash against him, especially among women, has pulled down his approval ratings and taken us to the brink of a historic Democratic midterm victory. But now he sees his chance to create a backlash to that backlash. So he’s riding the twin vehicles of anger and fear: anger at women like Christine Blasey Ford who have the gall to accuse a man like Brett Kavanaugh, and fear that now every man is a potential victim of some screeching harpy who makes a false claim against him.
That’s why Trump said this:
“This is a time when your father, when your husband, when your brother, when your son could do great, ‘Mom, I did great in school I’ve worked so hard. Mom, I’m so pleased to tell you, I just got a fantastic job with IBM. I just got a fantastic job with General Motors. I just got – I’m so proud. Mom, a terrible thing just happened. A person who I’ve never met said that I did things that were horrible and they’re firing me from my job, Mom. I don’t know what to do. Mom, what do I do? What do I do, Mom? What do I do, Mom?’ It’s a damn sad situation. OK. And we better start as a country getting smart and getting tough and not letting that stuff right back there, all those cameras, tell us how to live our lives.”
Imagine it: Deserving men reduced to helpless whimpering saps, crying to their mothers because some woman they’ve never met made a baseless accusation against them and ruined their lives. If that doesn’t make you both angry and afraid, then you’re not a red-blooded American man.
Trump might understand that nothing would make that case better than Brett Kavanaugh being voted down by the Senate. I’m not saying Trump absolutely wants that to happen, but he probably realizes that if it does, his chances of creating his own backlash rise considerably, which would certainly be of great benefit to him this November and two years hence.
That’s a plan, but that also means that all this was about something else all along, and not just politics. This is a war of the sexes and class warfare too, and this one battle in that war will be over soon enough. Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed or he won’t be – but nothing will be settled. Nothing can be settled. Some wars never end.