|DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
UPDATE: The White House, walking back its instructions to the FBI for an
abbreviated investigation, says it can interview anyone it deems necessary.
There is great mischief afoot as we slouch into what is shaping up to be the climactic week of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination debacle. Speaking out of one side of his mouth, President Trump declares that the FBI will have "free rein" in its reopened investigation while giving orders out of the other side that impose suffocating constraints that prevent a broader look at the allegations against him. And of course issuing spittle-flecked denials when the truth is revealed.
"I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion," Trump tweeted as NBC News was reporting a different reality -- that the FBI will interview only four witnesses.
This includes reviewing the accusations against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford (attempted rape) and Deborah Ramirez (exposing himself) but not Julie Swetnick (drugging women and organizing gang rapes), and per instructions from White House counsel Donald McGahn, the extremely limited number of witnesses the FBI will be allowed to interview will effectively prevent follow-ups on a number of leads. In other words, the investigation seems designed to fail.
According to the report:
Instead of investigating Swetnick's claims, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview, according to several people who discussed the parameters on the condition of anonymity. They characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.
The limited scope seems to be at odds with what some members of the Senate judiciary seemed to expect when they agreed to give the FBI as much as a week to investigate . . . "As cynical as many of us have become, we shouldn't be surprised by this subterfuge, which Democrats labeled a"farce" when, according to one report, the only witnesses to be interviewed are Ramirez and Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth, high school friends of Kavanaugh’s, and Leland Keyser, a high school friend of one of Kavanaugh's accusers, while the investigation could be wrapped up as early as Monday morning.
It was obvious at the end of last week that Kavanaugh was on the ropes as the horrifying extent of his sexual predation as a teenager and since then as a adult had become obvious. Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to approve the nomination in the full Senate, let alone control debate over it, so the deck has to be stacked. And stacked it is with the White House giving the FBI its marching orders.
The subterfuge should be obvious to Jeff Flake, whose 11th-hour "heroics" forced the reopened investigation, and to Lisa Murkowski who is backing Flake. (Where art thou, Susan Collins?)
"It's not meant to be a fishing expedition," presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that it was "up to the FBI" to determine who is interviewed.
Then, in yet another of the dramatic turns that have characterized this historic confrontation between the #MeToo movement and the Republican War on Women, Conway said "I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape," then revealed to a shocked Tapper that "I am a victim of sexual assault."
Beyond all the liberal self congratulating over the Republican attempt to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, what will Flake and Murkowski do? My guess is nothing of consequence, and they might not have to with Lindsey Graham playing Yosemite Sam and other conservatives continuing to defend the perp and piling on his victims.
Using the arc of the Weinstein, Moore, Moonves and Cosby sex scandals as a guide, the revelations from Ford, Rodriguez, Swetnik and a woman who has anonymously stated that her daughter saw a 33-year-old Kavanaugh drunkenly push a woman he was dating against a wall "very aggressively and sexually" after they left a bar in 1998, will not be the last.
Several Georgetown Prep and Yale University classmates have come forward to say Kavanaugh was a belligerent and aggressive blackout drunk, contradicting his own testimony, but that may be out of bounds for the FBI. Elizabeth Rasor, a former girlfriend of Judge, says that she'd be willing to talk to the FBI about Judge's confession of having been involved in a gang rape in high school, but despite multiple attempts to set up an interviewed, she has not heard back from the bureau, an experience shared by others.
College professor Charles Ludington, a Yale classmate, says he is deeply troubled by Kavanaugh appearing to blatantly mischaracterize his drinking in Senate testimony.
"I do not believe that the heavy drinking or even loutish behavior of an 18 or even 21 year old should condemn a person for the rest of his life," Ludington wrote in a statement he plans to deliver to the FBI. "However . . . if he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences."
Ludington said that on one occasion, “I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man's face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail."
Flake and Senator Chris Coons said in an interview Sunday that if the FBI investigation finds that the judge lied, his nomination likely would not move forward.
Let's also remember, as many woman voters will in a mere five weeks, that this isn't just about sex, it's also about sexual humiliation. Witness Ford's unforgettable recollection of Kavanaugh and Judge: "Indelible is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense."
The drumbeat of further negative publicity, combined with the numerous falsehoods uttered by Kavanaugh -- who held Bill Clinton to the highest of ethical and moral standards but has no discernible standards of his own -- will doom approval of his nomination, if only by a hair's breadth.
As the inimitable Charles Pierce notes, "Brett Kavanaugh has proven to be one of the great buzzkills in American politics." That is very good for the future of a Supreme Court on the verge of teetering into right-wing darkness. And American democracy, as well.