Last week, a long-time GOP political operative named Ed Whelan tweeted a batshit conspiracy theory that proposed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh — alias Bart O’Kavanaugh — of assaulting her when she was 15, had for all these years mistaken Kavanaugh for someone else. Whelan in his enthusiasm went so far as to actually publish the name and picture of the man he suspected is the doppelgänger, an act that almost assuredly qualifies as defamation. To bulwark his theory, Detective Whelan referenced Zillow floor plans of nearby homes and dropped pins on google maps.
This is obviously a load of malarkey, but Whelan wasn’t working alone. His posts cited as fact information that was either fabricated or not yet public, such as the location of the home of a female partygoer whose name hadn’t been published and other details only knowable to someone who had been inside the D.C. prep school social scene. Whelan also visited Ford’s LinkedIn profile last Sunday, hours before she came forward publicly in her Washington Post op-ed. When Ford noticed Whelan had visited her page she alerted an associate (LinkedIn allows you to see who looks at your profile, unless the visitor has a premium account), which suggests it’s possible that Whelan, who is far from being a household name, had already been on her radar.
Then this weekend two more women came forward — perhaps three — with new allegations of sexual misconduct. One, from a report in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer and Pulitzer-winning Ronan Farrow, regards a woman who knew Kavanaugh at Yale, and another woman, who is at the time of this writing still anonymous, apparently contacted Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her case against the President of the United States.
On Sunday night Avenatti tweeted out an email he’d sent to GOP Senator Chuck Grassley’s aide Mark Davis including a list of questions about specific lurid behavior on the part of Kavanaugh, including associations with gang rape. Then on Monday morning the Sentinel reported that the Montgomery County police are looking into an allegation of sexual misconduct, which, if charges are pressed, might trigger a criminal investigation. It’s not yet clear whether this last allegation is the same one Avenatti is handling. If it’s not, this brings the number of Kavanaugh accusers to four. Senate Republicans reportedly knew in advance of the Ramirez accusation, but so far haven’t issued any statements that address the veracity of her claim or indicate they’re prepared to take action.
At minimum, then, we can see that networks of people on both sides of these stories shared information. But this raises another question: How did Whelan get the drop on Ford, who at the time was anonymous? And who might he have been working with?
A few possibilities. One, Senate Republicans knew in advance what Ford would say in her op-ed and had passed it to Whelan. But that doesn’t explain how Whelan could know the location of a home belonging to a woman Ford didn’t identify in the op-ed. Alternatively, Ford might have provided the Washington Post or people affiliated with Senate Judiciary Democrats with the names of the people she didn’t want to identify in the op-ed; the Post or Ford’s team might have reached out to them, and one or more of them contacted people who passed the information along to Republicans. There’s also the very real possibility that Kavanaugh himself (or his friend Mark Judge, who was also in the room) had a hand in this. After all, he knows everything Ford does.
Importantly, Whelan’s theory presumes Ford told the truth: An attack did happen, it just wasn’t Kavanaugh. This strategy spares Republicans — all Republicans on the Senate Judiciary are men — the risk of calling the female victim of an alleged sexual assault a liar in the #Metoo era. They seem to have the self-awareness that dismissing Ford’s claim entirely would alienate women on both sides of the aisle, including GOP Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who haven’t committed to a “yes” vote. It also gives Kavanaugh room to say, “I believe you and I’m so sorry this happened to you, but it wasn’t me.” It seems like a deliberate PR decision, which speaks even more to the coordination among conservative media/Whelan/Judiciary Republicans/Kavanaugh. That’s quite an unusual response to a criminal accusation for which there is no documentary evidence, but it’s also kind of stupid because it seems to beg for an investigation to find out who really did it, which Republicans have tried hard to avoid.
More importantly, however, Whelan wasn’t the first to float the idea. That distinction goes to Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist who published an op-ed suggesting Kavanaugh had a doppelgänger, a theory Parker said “makes the most sense.” And it turns out that Parker and Whelan have a history here. In 2010 they collaborated to promote a fabricated story about Obama SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan. Here’s Whelan, and here’s Parker, and here’s a piece tying them together. From that last piece:
Despite its imputations of un-American-ness on the part of New York Jews, Parker’s arguments are almost elegant compared to much of what was said about Kagan on Fox News, talk radio, and the websites of certain conservative publications. For instance, everywhere on these alleged news outlets one could find untruths spread about Kagan’s alleged banning of military recruiters from Harvard Law School during her period as dean there. This is false, as Robert C. Clark, who preceded Kagan as dean there, explains. And yet somehow it’s no surprise that Sean Hannity, among others, are insisting that the lies they are telling about Kagan make her unfit for the Court.
The phony story was first put forth by National Review’s Ed Whelan (who is also concerned with a New Yorker’s inability to drive). Whelan appears to be following in Charles Dickens’ footsteps by writing serial fiction on a daily basis on the National Review Online. According to him, Kagan “treated military recruiters worse than she treated the high-powered law firms” that represented terror suspects. Whelan also misread—willfully one suspects—a recent article in the Daily Princetonian regarding the topic of Kagan’s college thesis to insist that her choice of topics—socialism in the early part of the century—put her “well on the Left,” a meme that like the recruiter nonsense was immediately picked up and spread on Fox Nation.
Though it’s to be expected that partisans on either side would collaborate in an effort to block the opposing party’s nominee, the history of coordinated duplicity between these two specific people suggests the doppelgänger theory isn’t just a lie, but an orchestrated lie. And indeed, Whelan tweeted Parker’s op-ed as part of a thread to lay the rails he would run off full-steam a few days later.
Congress isn’t cloistered, either. When asked if he’d communicated with anyone about his theory before publishing it, Whelan only denied having discussed it with a limited set of people: Don McGahn (White House counsel who ushered Kavanaugh through the selection process), the White House, and Kavanaugh personally. He didn’t mention anything about people connected to Kavanaugh, people connected to the Senate, Senators themselves, or even the much more limited Senate Judiciary Committee. Here it’s worth noting that Senator Orrin Hatch, after speaking with Kavanaugh about the allegations, said that either Kavanaugh or Ford were “mixed up” about the story. Hatch also said Kavanaugh had told him he wasn’t at the party, but Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock walked that claim back when it was pointed out that Ford hadn’t yet given details of time or place, so unless Kavanaugh was there, he would have no way of knowing what party it was.
Further, Whitlock actually put forth the doppelgänger theory before Whelan did, telling the Washington Examine that Dr. Ford “may be mistaking [Kavanaugh] for someone else.” Blundering blindly ahead, Whitlock then TWEETED that Ed Whelan would soon be breaking a story:
Whitlock — again, he’s Hatch’s spokesman — then deleted that tweet, which is a common thing people do with tweets that totally aren’t baldly incriminating.
But this brings us up to today and the Farrow/Mayer report in the New Yorker of a second allegation of sexual assault. In his report, a woman named Debbie Ramirez, who attended Yale with Kavanaugh, accused him of sticking his penis in her face at a party and making her touch it against her will. The report cited several people who knew Kavanuagh well at Yale — among them an ER doctor, a neurosurgeon, and one of Kavanaugh’s roommates — all saying they had either heard this story or that it was in keeping with Kavanaugh’s character at the time.
Kavanaugh immediately released a blanket denial, and the White House backed him up, but notably as of this writing no Senate Judiciary Republicans have made a statement about the allegations. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley did, however, issue a statement about the story, but he only said Republican Senators weren’t contacted about it. Unlike the White House, he didn’t back up Kavanaugh’s denial. However, it was reported that GOP Senate staffers had discussed Ramirez’s impending story last week with the New Yorker, and soon after that Senate Republicans began pressuring Ford to testify in front of the committee as soon as possible. They did this, of course, in order to try to get Ford to testify without this second allegation to bolster her claims.
It’s strange that Grassley would make this denial, which can and likely will be easily disproved. Either Farrow spoke with Republican staffers ahead of publication or he made that up for the hell of it. It’s unlikely a guy riding on a Pulitzer-winning year of impeccable reporting on this exact subject would do such a thing, and it’s equally unthinkable that Farrow wouldn’t have tried to contact Kavanaugh or associates before publishing this piece. Additionally, Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim noted that “Neither Ramirez nor her attorney have contacted the chairman’s office, the [Senate Repubican] aide said, adding Dems never informed the GOP staff of these allegations.” That denial doesn’t include Mayer or Farrow.
More problematic for the GOP is the fact that Mayer said both she and Farrow saw emails between Yale alumni discussing the incident. The emails dated from July, months before Dr. Ford went public with her accusations. “The story broke overnight, but it dates back 35 years,” Mayer told NBC. “What happened was, the classmates at Yale were talking to each other about it, they were emailing about it. We’ve seen the emails, back in July before Christine Blasey Ford came forward, and eventually word of it spread. It spread to the Senate. It spread to the media. And we [the New Yorker] reached out to her.”
When we assemble these pieces, though, we can understand why Grassley chose to deny knowing about Farrow’s story rather than supporting Kavanaugh’s denial (or making any comment on the story whatsoever). It’s increasingly clear that this idiotic cover-up will soon be a scandal of its own, one that wraps up Senate Republicans. And indeed, from the beginning the overarching story of Kavanaugh’s confirmation has been the GOP’s scramble to cover up as much of the nominee’s past as possible, such as refusing to release more than 90% of his documents from his tenure as a legal adviser in the Bush White House. As the stakes got higher and Kavanaugh’s confirmation became less and less of a certainty, the GOP grew desperate. It’s highly likely a number of Senate Republicans crossed the line in engineering what they knew to be lies in order to deceive the public and fast-track a serial sexual assaulter with a drinking problem to the highest position of moral authority in the country. That’s a big problem, and right now they probably consider it a much bigger problem than looking out for the well-being of one Bart O’Kavanaugh.
It’s not over, either. As mentioned above, attorney Michael Avenatti hinted as only he can that he’s got some truly durrty dirt on Kavanaugh, including references to “gang rape.” Add to this the pressure of a pending police investigation into an accusation in Montgomery County, Maryland, where there is no statute of limitations on sexual assault. In the wake of these multiple allegations, it’s notable that this past weekend Ed Whelan stepped down from his role at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, citing his “inexcusable mistake” of accusing a private person by name of attempted rape.
It’s also pretty plain that the GOP won’t be able to make these stories disappear. They’ll probably keep coming, and if and when they do the pile of them will eventually trigger a federal investigation. Not only would this hound Kavanaugh well beyond his confirmation, such an investigation could, in tracing the narrative, reach Republican offices on the hill. This isn’t the kind of thing you want on voters’ minds during midterm elections, especially as control of the Senate increasingly seems within reach of the Democrats. It’s also important to consider that Senate Republicans who aren’t on the Judiciary Committee — such as Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, and Lisa Murkowski — will probably not want committee members who support Kavanaugh to be seen as speaking for them. Today a massive group of women gathered outside one of Collins’s offices in D.C. They won’t go anywhere.
As of now, all signs point to Republicans distancing themselves from Kavanaugh this week, and considering the kinds of questions he’ll be forced to answer on camera and under oath (if you think they’d be too harsh on sweet, sterling Brett, here’s are some of the graphic and intentionally humiliating questions he wanted to ask Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky) it’s not unlikely the GOP will force him to withdraw before he and Ford testify to the committee, scheduled (for now) for this Thursday. But if they do pull him, it’s not because they saw the light. It’s because they got in too deep.