In the hours after a 51-year-old California professor came forward to publicly allege that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school, the White House signaled no interest in slowing Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
Instead, the president’s team and his allies on and off the Hill began to mount a vigorous defense against the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, questioning why she had identified herself only now, and framing Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior as almost commonplace in nature.
A senior White House official told The Daily Beast that, as of Sunday evening, things are still “full steam ahead” for Kavanaugh. On Friday afternoon, a different White House official confirmed that President Trump had been made aware of the earlier reports involving the Kavanaugh sexual-misconduct allegation—reports that did not name the accuser.
The president has told those close to him in recent days that he believes there is a “conspiracy” or organized effort by Democrats to smear Kavanaugh and try to derail the nomination of a “good man.” One Trump confidant said Sunday that they “can’t imagine that” Ford coming forward will change the president’s position, and that it will far more likely cause Trump to dig in and attack those going after Kavanaugh.
The response from Team Trump rang all too familiar for women who have come forward in the past to allege that they had been targeted by prominent male officials. And for veterans of Clarence Thomas’ nomination for the Supreme Court seat some three decades ago, the echoes were even more profound. The extent to which lessons have been learned from that episode —and what specific lessons they are—could very well determine Kavanaugh’s fate in the coming days.
While Trump’s team quickly rushed to his defense, other Republicans signaled that they wanted to pump the brakes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would be open to Ford providing information to the committee, so long as it was done “immediately, so the process can continue as scheduled.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), another member of the committee, went a step further saying “we can’t vote until we hear more” from Ford and that he was “not comfortable voting yes” until they did.
A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, initially claimed that what was “disturbing” about the story was that it was just surfacing now after 35 years. The spokesman later said Grassley was working to set up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford ahead of the scheduled vote.
The likelihood of a protracted and ugly political fight over a crucial Supreme Court seat now hangs heavily over Washington, D.C. For days, it had been simmering near the surface, with rumors circulating that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was sitting on a letter from a woman accusing Kavanaugh of a dark episode in his past. Feinstein declined to publish the letter (let alone acknowledge its existence) because, as she later said, she’d been instructed by its author to not reveal her identity. In the middle of the week, The Intercept reported the letter’s existence. On Friday, The New Yorker detailed the episode covered in the letter.
On Sunday, Ford finally told her story to The Washington Post. In the piece, she claimed that during high school she was taken into a room with Kavanaugh and a friend, and that Kavanaugh pinned her down, groped her and tried “to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it.” She said she tried to scream during the alleged incident, but Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.
Ford initially came forward anonymously to the Post in July, but declined to be identified until now because, as she explained: “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” Kavanaugh has “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations in the Post story.
While Democrats quickly demanded that the Senate Judiciary Committee postpone its vote on the Kavanaugh confirmation, conservatives saw a conspicuously timed news story. And it wasn’t just die-hard Trump supporters seeing nefarious undertones behind Ford coming forward, but establishment types as well.
Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told The Daily Beast the allegations were “spurious” and “false” and “transparently a desperate, last-minute attempt by Senate Democrats to delay the confirmation of one of the most eminently qualified Supreme Court nominees in modern history.” He did not specify how he determined they were false (Ford reportedly passed a polygraph test and recounted the incident—though without naming Kavanaugh—to a therapist she and her husband were seeing in 2012).
Ed Rollins, current co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, said that he completely agreed with the White House’s strategy to proceed as normal on the nomination, telling The Daily Beast: “He is eminently qualified! They need to get him confirmed now.” Remarking on Flake’s reaction to the news, Rollins said, “Flake will do anything to undo the Trump agenda. If this is the new standard, no one will ever want or be able to serve in government or on the judiciary.” Flake voted for Trump’s tax-cut bill, the president’s signature legislative achievement.
Others, like former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a top Trump ally, insisted that Ford’s story wasn’t credible because of the timing of her decision to finally come forward. But, even if the accusations were true, Kingston added, it was of questionable significance.
“Let’s all step back and think about our own perfect behavior when we were in high school,” Kingston told The Daily Beast. “I think there have been enough people from both parties, although far more liberals than conservatives, who have received such allegations… Not many, however, have been accused of things that they may have done in high school—but something that was bottled up until now. Let’s face it, Democrats would do anything possible to derail a Trump nomination.”