Editorial Law and Policy

On Attempted Rape Allegations, GOP Wants to Prosecute Ford to Promote Kavanaugh

Jodi Jacobson

Christine Blasey Ford wants a fair and impartial investigation of her allegation that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. The GOP is refusing.

Last Sunday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology from Palo Alto University, made public her allegation that Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the 1980s. From the moment she did, Republicans began undermining her using a playbook straight out of the Anita Hill hearings.

Their strategy employs several tactics in a larger effort to discredit and distract. One is to question Ford’s sanity and veracity. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, known for his attacks on Hill 27 years ago, made clear that Ford could not possibly be telling the truth because Kavanaugh denied it. Hatch said Monday that Ford is “mistaken” and he believes Kavanaugh is “a very strong, decent man.” In an interview with CNN, Hatch said that Kavanaugh told him during a telephone conversation Monday that “he didn’t do that and he wasn’t at the party” where the incident is alleged to have occurred, so “clearly somebody’s mixed up.”

“She’s mistaken something that I don’t know …. I don’t know her,” Hatch said. Asked if he believes Kavanaugh, Hatch responded, “I sure do.”

Easy, right? No man accused of attempted rape has ever lied about it and surely this woman must be “mistaken,” a euphemistic way of saying she is either lying, crazy, or both. It’s not “he said, she said.” It’s “he said, and that’s all I need to know.” 

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Even as some Republicans dismiss Ford’s claims outright, others try to appear sympathetic and concerned about the allegations while insisting that some existential ticking clock prevents them from taking time to investigate. Kellyanne Conway, playing the role of the sympathetic female figure, said that Ford “should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” and immediately reminded everyone that Kavanaugh is a man of “character and integrity”—simultaneously both insulting Ford’s veracity and ignoring the implications of the what Ford alleged. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham took pains to paint Kavanaugh himself as a victim, stating“They’ve had tons of time to do this. This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh  …. I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”

Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, in their usual roles as senatorial Weebles, flipped back and forth, first asserting that a vote must be postponed until the Senate could hear from Ford, and then flopping to the other side: Corker demanded a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation be taken unless she appears Monday, Flake indicated he’d do the same, and Collins said not doing so would be “unfair” to Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, complicating everything but utterly predictable, the right-wing terror machine has gone into full gear: threatening, intimidating, and harassing Ford and her family, who now have been forced into hiding.

The GOP is now blaming Ford for not adhering to the rules of a game they’ve changed several times. After the allegations became public, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley said that a vote on Kavanaugh would proceed as originally scheduled on Thursday, September 20. That changed after a public backlash: The vote was postponed, and a hearing set for Monday the 24th, just a few days later. The committee had not, however, consulted either Ford or her lawyer, Debra Katz, on timing, venue, or process, making clear they did not have her interest at heart. Moreover, Grassley made clear they would not call or subpoena the only other witness named by Ford, conservative columnist Mark Judge. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin noted that “in any rational fact-finding process,” Judge would be called to testify. But this is not rational. This is the GOP hell-bent on maintaining its own power.

Katz sent a letter questioning the process and requesting an FBI investigation:

While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident. The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is “mistaken” and “mixed up.” While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials.
As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before, an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations. A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.

Now the GOP is demanding Ford show up or else, and Grassley sent a letter to Katz late Wednesday afternoon demanding that Ford submit written testimony by this Friday morning. Moreover the GOP has refused to call for an FBI investigation, even though it can easily be carried out and is actually routine in such cases.

All of this is meant to mask the fact that Republicans are unconcerned with fact-finding or objective truth, a fact we knew if only because the entire Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a sham. They are not concerned with sexual assault, sexual harassment, or victims’ rights. They are not concerned with weighing Ford’s allegations. They don’t care if Kavanaugh attempted rape once, twice, or 100 times, or if he harassed, demeaned, or was complicit in harassment in the offices of Alex Kozinski, or if there are other issues to uncover, such as those on which he appears to have committed perjury. They are not concerned with justice in any sense. They just want Kavanaugh, a former political operative, on the Court as soon as possible so he can do the bidding of corporate interests. A new Reuters poll suggests that his popularity throughout the country is at a historic low and opposition to his becoming a justice of the Supreme Court is high. But he’s the judicial equivalent of Trump shooting a guy on Fifth Avenue; he won’t lose GOP support.

In an interview, Kristine Lucius, who worked on judicial nominations for 14 years as the staff director at the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me she feels Grassley’s approach is not in keeping with best practices and is a partisan approach. Lucius, currently executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said:

I think the process that Chairman Grassley has set forth on this hearing just generally, even before these allegations of Dr. Blasey Ford came to light, that process has had many red flags, many process fouls …. So I think that what we’re seeing is a continuation of how he has run this hearing process and this independent vetting of Brett Kavanaugh differently than any previous Supreme Court nomination that I’ve worked on, and I’ve worked on six.

Lucius did not think it would be appropriate to have Senate staffers interview Ford and Kavanaugh, as Grassley had suggested. There are individuals, Lucius said, “who are specifically trained in how to investigate allegations of sexual assault or sexual trauma. And it is a very different and much more sensitive type of investigation.”

Staffers are not equipped to carry out such investigations, Lucius said, because for one thing they lack training:

I can tell you as someone who for many years was a “cleared” staffer who worked on background investigations of judicial nominees, that there was no training whatsoever for how to work with survivors of sexual trauma. That’s just not at all what the cleared staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were trained to do or did. Instead, the FBI—and other organizations, I think, at the state level as well—they have investigators who understand how you approach those conversations, understand how to get a whole picture when someone has experienced severe trauma. But I can tell you that’s not at all what Senate Judiciary Committee staff are trained to do.

“We know from the Anita Hill hearings that the FBI conducted a series of investigations before Anita Hill came to testify. So it seems … directly analogous [that] what Dr. Blasey Ford is asking to happen before she come testify should happen here as well,” Lucius continued.

“The investigators at the FBI are nonpartisan, they’re not running for political office, they are trained to have these kind of conversations. And so it makes perfect sense to me, knowing the limitation of staff conversation and clear staff interviews, that that is not the appropriate thing when we’re talking about an allegation as serious as sexual assault,” Lucius said, pointing out that the senators “can use that investigative material from the FBI to prepare for the hearing.”

If justice is to be served, what is needed, Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told me in an interview is a “trauma-informed” process that protects Ford and seeks the truth. A joint letter sent by the NWLC and the Leadership Institute to all 100 senators on Tuesday calls for just that, “an investigation led by independent, trauma-informed professionals who have the training and experience necessary to appropriately and respectfully handle a matter involving sexual assault.” 

The letter says:

The Constitution entrusts all 100 Senators with the responsibility to independently consider nominations to the Supreme Court. In light of the revelation that the Senate Judiciary Committee noticed a hearing without Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s consent and agreement, we call for the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone the scheduled hearing on Monday, September 24, 2018. It is imperative that each member of the Senate clearly commit to providing a process to consider these very serious and credible allegations that is fair, thorough, and nonpartisan for all parties involved. A rushed process without a fair and independent investigation is unacceptable.

Facts. Respect. Dignity. Justice. These would be at the center of any process that seeks truth and ensures that the allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh are fully vetted. From what we can see so far, the GOP has no interest in such a process, just as they have nominated a man to the Court who has no interest in justice.

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