If you missed the news this weekend, the New York Times published an essay adapted from an upcoming book that outlined new accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, who survived a confirmation fight based on previous allegations by Dr. Christine Ford after Trump nominated him to the highest court, and was approved by a narrow Senate vote last October. The new essay, titled “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not,” details the experience of Deborah Ramirez, a student who attended Yale in the ‘80s alongside Kavanaugh. It centers around an incident during her freshman year:
During the winter of her freshman year, a drunken dormitory party unsettled her deeply. She and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed…
“I had gone through high school, I’m the good girl, and now, in one evening, it was all ripped away,” she said in an interview earlier this year at her Boulder, Colo., home. By preying upon her in this way, she added, Mr. Kavanaugh and his friends “make it clear I’m not smart.”
But didn’t this story come out before?
Correct. This story is not new—it was circulated during the time of Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing. What is new is some follow-up reporting by the Times reporters which indicates there’s plenty of corroboration for Ramirez’s story:
At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.
What else is new?
In fact, there’s a brand new accusation making the rounds, which was first levied by a man named Max Stier, another classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale:
[Stier] saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.
Stier actually told the FBI his story at the time of Kavanaugh’s emergence as a Supreme Court candidate, but they did not investigate, and he hasn’t spoken publicly—including with the Times. Importantly, the female student in question also has declined to speak, and reportedly doesn’t remember the incident—a detail that was left out of the original Times story, though it does appear in a forthcoming book by the same writers, and was inserted into the story after Kavanaugh’s defenders complained. (More on that in a moment.)
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer says that at least one senator, Delaware’s Chris Coons, alerted the FBI about Stier’s accusation before the hearing:
With regard to Ramirez, there's a class and race element to the story—Kavanaugh was white and rich, Ramirez was brown and poor, and her experiences reflected the difference:
There were many more unhappy memories of college. Fellow students made fun of the way she dropped consonants when she spoke, but also ribbed her for not being fluent in Spanish. They mocked her knockoff black-and-red Air Jordans. They even questioned her admission on the merits. “Is it because you're Puerto Rican?” someone once asked her.
Why didn't this story come out more prominently before?
Despite the fact that the FBI interviewed Ramirez and described her as “credible,” they didn't speak with any of the 25 potential witnesses Ramirez's lawyers gave them. That's especially strange given the fact, reported by the Times, that “many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.” The fact that more headway wasn't made is due in part to the restrictions imposed by Senate Republicans, who were eager to speed Kavanaugh's nomination through without investigative delay.
The Times writers spent 10 months investigating the new accusations, and Kavanaugh refused to speak with them after the couldn't reach agreeable 'terms.”
What has the reaction been like?
On the Republican side, it's been the same doubling down we saw during the nomination hearings, led by Trump:
Mitch McConnell sounded off soon after:
There was also criticism of the fact that in the original story, the Times account neglected to note that in the incident described by Max Stier, the woman in question claims not to remember—a detail that was added after the story was first published. GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel's reaction was typical:
And on Monday morning, Trump used the Times' “clarification” to attack the paper and the accusations themselves:
What about the Democrats?
At least three presidential candidates—Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro—called for Kavanaugh's impeachment:
Others, like Joe Biden, stopped short of mentioning impeachment, but did call for an investigation:
Of course, as Splinter reports, this one hits close to home for Biden, who has been under fire for most of the campaign season for the way he pushed the nomination process of Clarence Thomas when Thomas was accused of sexual misconduct by Anita Hill.
Here was Bernie Sanders' statement:
What happens next?
That’s not entirely clear at the moment, but it seems that an investigation could be in the offing. Vox asked the question of whether Kavanaugh perjured himself during his confirmation hearing, and it’s likely that Democrats in Congress will be asking the same thing. Vox’s report calls into question statements from Kavanaugh about when he learned of Ramirez’s accusation—testifying before the Senate, he claimed that he first read about them in The New Yorker, but an NBC News report seemed to indicate that there had been contact well before the story came out. Vox goes on to list five other times Kavanaugh’s testimony might have been untruthful, while conceding that there’s a “high legal bar for perjury.”
In addition to accountability for Kavanaugh, it’s possible that Senate Republicans could come under fire for limiting the FBI investigation in the lead-up to his nomination hearing. Whatever happens next, the battle lines have been drawn, and it’s clear that Republicans are gearing up for another fight and have no plans to cede any ground to Democrats, new accusations be damned.