Conservatives are lying to you about what corroborating evidence is. They’re hoping that you’ll confuse corroborating evidence with irrefutable proof. And because there’s no way to prove definitively whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford—absent the testimony of an impartial witness or a confession from Kavanaugh himself—conservatives are claiming there’s no evidence corroborating that the assault ever happened.
Notably, even if one of Ford’s friends witnessed an assault, conservatives would discount that too. Ford’s friend might be lying to protect her, after all. What conservatives reportedly want is a dispassionate, neutral third party, one with no political or personal motivation, who can step forward and say, “I saw Brett Kavanaugh assault Christine Blasey Ford.” Without that clarity, conservatives maintain this is a smear job—and they’re using that argument as an excuse to deny the mounting reasons that Brett Kavanaugh should not be on the U.S. Supreme Court bench.
Interestingly, they claim it’s a smear job while at the same time saying they believe Ford, which is an untenable and absurd position. If you think it’s a smear job, that means you think Ford is part of a conspiracy that began in 2012, when she first told a therapist she’d been assaulted. And if you think that, you don’t believe her. That’s just basic logic, something one must learn never to expect from conservatives.
The latest to trot out the “woe betide Brett” argument is Bret Stephens, who heard the plaintive cry of another Bret(t) in need and decided he should weigh in on Thursday with his opinion in the New York Times.
After applauding Donald Trump—a man accused of multiple sex crimes himself—for bullying Ford and those who support her, Stephens dismisses the claims of each of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims as uncorroborated.
In a paragraph that is virtually impossible to parse from a semantic standpoint, Stephens seems to be complaining that the press has seized on the “uncorroborated” claims of Julie Swetnick, and added them to the “uncorroborated” claims of Deborah Ramirez, all as corroborating evidence that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford:
Swetnick’s claims border on the preposterous. They are wholly uncorroborated. But that didn’t keep Kavanaugh’s opponents, in politics and the press, from seizing them as evidence of corroboration with Blasey’s allegation, which is not preposterous but is also largely uncorroborated, and with the allegation of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez—uncorroborated again.
Uncorroborated plus uncorroborated plus largely uncorroborated is not the accumulation of questions, much less of evidence. It is the duplication of hearsay.
Apparently, according to Stephens, if a woman provides evidence that she was assaulted in the form of direct testimony—which, by the way, is evidence according to every evidence rule book, including the Federal Rules of Evidence—then that evidence can be discounted as hearsay if it is not corroborated. This is, of course, nonsense. Either he doesn’t understand what “corroborating evidence” means, or he does and he’s lying about it in order to mislead his readers.
Corroborating evidence doesn’t mean air-tight proof. Corroboration isn’t a smoking gun: in this case, a video of the assault or a dispassionate third-party witness to it. Corroboration is any evidence that supports an allegation or claim. As outlined in Black’s Law Dictionary, “The testimony of a witness is said to be corroborated when it is shown to correspond with the representation of some other witnesses, or to comport with some facts otherwise known or established.”
Simply put, any evidence that supports Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh assaulted her when he was drunk at a party is corroborating evidence. The evidence may be weak. The evidence may be strong. But it is still corroborating evidence if it tends to support the allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford.
The evidence corroborating Ford’s claims is voluminous: It includes everything from Ford’s description of Kavanaugh’s drinking buddies, to Kavanaugh’s July 1 calendar entry that describes his plans to go to “Timmy’s for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J. Bernie and … Squi,” to Mark Judge’s memoir outlining his and “Bart O’Kavanaugh’s” drinking habits, to Kavanaugh’s Beach Week letter discussing “prolific pukers.” There is a slew of other evidence corroborating Ford’s claims. (Seth Abramson wrote a detailed Twitter thread about all the corroborating evidence; it is worth reading.)
In fact, corroborating evidence includes evidence that counters Kavanaugh’s own testimony. For example, Brett’s claims that he was a virgin who never drank to excess are belied by his own statements about how much he likes beer, as well as the statements of his high school and college pals that he was frequently drunk and bragged about his sexual prowess. Evidence that lessens Kavanaugh’s credibility and enhances Ford’s credibility is corroborating evidence.
Is it airtight proof? No. But does any of this evidence support—not prove, but support—the main proposition? Of course it does.
As for hearsay? That term does not apply to any of the alleged victims’ statements about what happened to them. Stephens gets this laughably wrong.
Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is offered in court to prove the truth of an assertion. Since we’re not in court and not following the rules of evidence—remember, this is a job interview where the question is Kavanaugh’s fitness to be a Supreme Court justice, not a trial to determine whether he should be convicted of assault—let’s just keep it simple and say that hearsay is a rumor. It is something that someone else tells you, which you then offer as proof that the rumor is true.
In other words, let’s say Ford didn’t remember that she was assaulted, but was told by her friend Leyland Keyser that she was. At the hearing, if Ford had said “I was assaulted, and I know that because Leyland told me,” that would be hearsay. Ford would be offering a statement from a friend saying, “this happened to you,” in order to prove the assertion that “this happened to me.”
But Ford’s testimony about what happened to her based on her own recollection is direct evidence. It may not be enough evidence to convict Kavanaugh at trial. It may not even be enough evidence to convince senators that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court.
But it is evidence. Same with Ramirez’s statement and Swetnick’s. It is not hearsay upon hearsay as Stephens claims. It is three separate pieces of direct evidence that, put together, corroborate claims that Kavanaugh drank excessively and was an aggressive, and sometimes violent, drunk.
So when conservatives say there’s no corroborating evidence, they’re not being honest. When they try to discount Ford’s testimony about what happened to her as hearsay, they are not being honest. In his op-ed, Bret Stephens is not being honest.
Conservatives should just admit that all the corroborating evidence in the world isn’t going to make them change their minds. Certainly the limited scope of the FBI investigation and the recent moves forward by the Senate suggest they’re not interested in finding the truth—only in placating the public.
And besides, whether Kavanaugh assaulted Ford is not even the crux of the issue anymore. The point is that Kavanaugh told a series of provable lies and gave explanations for his behavior in high school and college in a way that was belligerent, partisan, and ultimately, not credible.
So is there irrefutable proof that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford? No. But his behavior during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is all the irrefutable proof I need that Kavanaugh is unfit to serve as an associate justice to the Supreme Court.