The FBI’s Kavanaugh investigation
Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court hung in the balance this week as the FBI conducted an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him, at the insistence of wavering Republican senators. After hearing emotional testimony from both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said the issue of who was telling the truth “is tearing the country apart,” and that he could not vote for Kavanaugh without further clarification from the FBI. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Flake in backing an investigation. But House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would call for a vote as soon as the FBI concluded its expanded background check. “The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close,” McConnell said.
President Trump ordered the FBI to conduct an investigation into the allegations from Blasey Ford as well as from Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale classmate who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at a college party. But the FBI reportedly was not given authority to look into Kavanaugh’s drinking habits in high school and college or whether he told the truth during his Senate testimony. Initially, the White House provided the bureau with a list of only four witnesses to question; after backlash from Democrats, the White House clarified that the FBI could interview anyone agents felt necessary, as long as the investigation wrapped up within one week. Ramirez’s attorney, John Clune, said she provided more than 20 names to the FBI, but there’s no indication that the FBI has contacted any of them. “We have great concern that the FBI is not conducting—or not being permitted to conduct—a serious investigation,” Clune said. The FBI’s report was due be sent to the Senate after The Week went to press.
What the editorials said
Democrats got what they wanted by delaying the vote on Kavanaugh, said WashingtonExaminer.com. Their real agenda is to prevent President Trump from filling this seat until, they hope, “they take over the Senate in the midterm elections.” Then they’ll refuse to confirm anyone until 2020. If the FBI doesn’t find any proof of the sexual assault allegations, Democrats will undoubtedly “move the goalposts” and say the bureau “wasn’t given enough time or manpower or resources.” But it’s impossible for the FBI or Kavanaugh to prove he’s innocent, and if no evidence of guilt is found, “the Senate must disregard the accusation” and promptly “confirm an excellent nominee.”
“Whatever happens next, Republican lawmakers ought to tread carefully,” said The New York Times. Blasey Ford’s wrenching testimony has inspired legions of women to share their own experiences with sexual assault. “In response, Republican men have largely shrugged their shoulders” and, even worse, dismissed Blasey Ford as “hopelessly confused, a political pawn, or a liar.” The real danger, President Trump and many Republicans say, is that good men like Kavanaugh will be destroyed by false accusations. “This is straight-up culture warfare.”
What the columnists said
President Trump’s defense of Kavanaugh is entirely based on “male victimhood,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. At a rally in Mississippi this week, Trump mocked Blasey Ford’s testimony outright, adding that this is a “very scary time for young men” in America. This isn’t about Kavanaugh anymore. It’s about heeding the “primal scream” of a white, male GOP base that feels its power and prestige slipping away. Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight “has become a trial over masculinity itself,” said Jeet Heer in TheNewRepublic.com. To defend Kavanaugh, Republicans are insisting that reports of his heavy drinking and belligerent behavior in high school and college only show he’s a typical guy, and are blaming the #MeToo movement for demonizing men.
Republicans have a clear choice, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. They either confirm Kavanaugh now, or bow in “total capitulation” to the Left’s agenda. Liberals are dying to make a scapegoat of a white male Catholic conservative who belonged to an Ivy League frat and “just might be the deciding vote the next time there’s a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.” Flake actually did Kavanaugh a favor, said David Marcus in TheFederalist.com. If the FBI comes back with nothing, which seems likely, it will deflate the allegations against him and restore Kavanaugh’s legitimacy as a Supreme Court justice. “That is no small thing.”
This fight over this nomination completes the GOP’s transformation into Trump’s party, said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. Kavanaugh, a card-carrying member of the Bush-era Republican establishment, embraced Trump’s no-holds-barred partisanship in defending himself. Even anti-Trump conservatives have flocked to defend the judge, seeing it as an existential struggle against left-wing smears. After this nomination fight and the November midterms are over, the political polarization will only get worse. “Voters will be faced with a binary choice heading into 2020: Join the party of Trump or be part of the #Resistance.”
President Trump is gambling that the Kavanaugh fight “will save his party’s control of Congress,” said Shannon Pettypiece in Bloomberg.com. Republicans have been heartened by polls showing that enthusiasm for the midterms has grown 12 percentage points among their voters since July. Trump is convinced that Kavanaugh represents “an untapped cultural undercurrent,” which is why you’re seeing him attacking his accusers outright. That could just as easily backfire, said Neil J. Young in TheAtlantic.com. President Trump’s net support among Republican women has dropped by 19 points since the allegations against Kavanaugh. Democrats now have a 28-point advantage among all women voters. Republicans now lead by only 5 points among married, white, college-educated women, a key part of their coalition. “If those numbers hold, they may spell disaster for Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Reuters, Media Bakery, Reuters ■