Published 8:03 PM EDT Sep 17, 2018
Now that Christine Blasey Ford has put her name behind the allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were teenagers, and now that Kavanaugh has categorically denied doing so, there’s only one thing to do: Try to get to the bottom of this serious accusation.
Monday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee slowed down the express train that had been speeding toward a confirmation vote Thursday and scheduled a hearing for next Monday. Now, senators need to put Ford and Kavanaugh, and any other relevant witnesses, under oath at that hearing. Air evidence that might be able to determine whether the allegation is relevant, or even potentially disqualifying. Take the time to see whether any similar, credible accusations arise that would suggest a pattern of conduct.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Ford accused a drunken Kavanaugh of forcing her into a bedroom at a high school party when she was perhaps 15 and he was about 17. Kavanaugh, she said, threw her on the bed, got on top of her, groped and tried to undress her, and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. If true, this goes way beyond youthful indiscretion. If true, it amounts to sexual assault.
Yes, the incident allegedly happened in the early 1980s, which puts Kavanaugh at a grave disadvantage. But her accusation and his flat denial suggest that someone is not telling the truth right now. And if that someone turns out to be Kavanaugh, it speaks directly to his fitness to sit on the Supreme Court.
Getting to the truth will not be easy. Perhaps impossible. Defenders of Ford and Kavanaugh can rattle off details that weigh in favor of each.
Buttressing her account, in 2012 Ford told a therapist about a "rape attempt" during her youth, a fact corroborated by the therapist’s notes. Though the notes don’t mention Kavanaugh, Ford's husband recalls her using Kavanaugh's last name.
Nor is Ford some publicity hound. She attempted to remain private while sending the allegation via her congresswoman to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. But Ford was yanked into the open by leaks to the news media. To think she is untruthful, you must believe she made up a story six years ago for a therapist and then lay in wait for Kavanaugh's nomination. And that she’s eager to have her life turned inside out and her character savaged.
In Kavanaugh’s favor, dozens of associates have testified to his sterling character. The accuser's story contains holes. She doesn’t recall exactly where the party was, or the date, or how she got home after she said she escaped from the bedroom when a friend of Kavanaugh jumped on the bed, knocking all three of them to the floor. She apparently did not tell her parents or any friends at the time.
These uncertainties are all the more reason for the Senate to proceed diligently. Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, whom Ford said was with him, should be put under oath, as should any other relevant witnesses. Perhaps evidence corroborating one side or the other will emerge.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, considered a swing vote on the nomination, tweeted that both Ford and Kavanaugh should "testify under oath," and it now appears they will.
The case carries unmistakable echoes of the ugly partisan show in 1991, when Anita Hill accused now-Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. That hearing ended unsatisfactorily, with each sticking to his or her story.
History might well repeat itself with another he-said, she-said standoff. But the Senate has an obligation to seek out the truth before it rewards Kavanaugh with a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court.
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