- Dahlia Lithwicksenior editor at Slate.com, where she is also senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter and hosts the podcast Amicus.
- Ian Millhisersenior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the justice editor for ThinkProgress.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has come forward to accuse President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape, throwing his nomination into question in the days before the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on it. Blasey Ford is a professor at Palo Alto University in California and says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. She at first expected her story to be kept confidential, but changed her mind after it leaked. She now says she is willing to testify about her experience. In an interview published Sunday by The Washington Post, Ford said that in the early 1980s Kavanaugh and a friend were “stumbling drunk” when they pushed her into a bedroom. The Post reports, “While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.” We get a response from Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com, whose latest piece is headlined “Our System Is Too Broken to Assess the Sexual Assault Claim Against Kavanaugh.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with explosive allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that stem from an interview published Sunday by The Washington Post with a woman who has come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her in high school. She now says she’s willing to testify about her experience. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a professor at Palo Alto University in California, and she also teaches at Stanford. She said she first expected her story to be kept confidential, but changed her mind after it leaked. The Washington Post reports, “Now, Ford has decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.”
Speaking on the record to a reporter for the first time, Dr. Blasey Ford said in the early 1980s Kavanaugh and a friend were, quote, “stumbling drunk” when they pushed her into a bedroom at a party. The Post reports, “While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth. 'I thought he might inadvertently kill me,' said Ford. 'He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing,'” The Washington Post reported. Dr. Blasey Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh’s friend jumped on top of them. They all went tumbling to the ground.
She said she never spoke about the attack until 2012 during couples therapy with her husband, who said his wife used Kavanaugh’s last name. Then, in early July, after Kavanaugh was shortlisted to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Dr. Blasey Ford contacted her congressmember, California Democrat Anna Eshoo, and then sent a letter via Eshoo’s office to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Later in July, she contacted The Washington Post through a tip line. She also took a polygraph test regarding the incident, which the paper reviewed, and she passed.
But for weeks she declined to go public, citing concerns about her and her family and privacy, even as Judge Kavanaugh could still be confirmed. Blasey Ford told the Post, quote, “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” But last Wednesday, The Intercept broke the news that Senator Feinstein had a letter describing an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman in high school, and that Feinstein was refusing to share it with her Democratic colleagues. Feinstein then issued a statement that the author had, quote, “strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities,” Feinstein said. The FBI reportedly sent the letter to the White House to be included in Kavanaugh’s background file after redacting Blasey Ford’s name, which then sent it to all of the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Friday, The New Yorker magazine reported the letter’s contents but did not reveal Blasey Ford’s identity. As reporters began to visit Blasey’s home to ask for comment, she ultimately decided to speak to The Washington Post and identify herself for the story that it published on Sunday. Judge Kavanaugh has since repeated his previous denial that such an incident ever took place.
All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are men. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Charles Grassley, responded by releasing a letter from 65 women who say they knew Kavanaugh in high school and that, quote, “he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect” and has “stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity.” Meanwhile, three Senate Republications—senators Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and Lisa Murkowski—and a slew of Democrats have said the Senate Judiciary Committee should delay the vote. This is [Senator Susan Collins] speaking to CNN Sunday about the new allegations.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I’m going to be talking with my colleagues, but I really don’t have anything to add at this point. As I had said, I did ask—I did read the letter last week and asked the judge in a telephone conversation on Friday about it, and he was very emphatic in his denial.
CNN REPORTER: Do you believe the accuser?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I don’t know enough to make a judgment at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Maine senator, Republican Susan Collins. This morning, shortly before we went to broadcast, Dr. Blasey Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, told CNN her client is willing to testify before Congress.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Will your client, Christine Ford, be willing to testify in public to the Judiciary Committee?
DEBRA KATZ: The answer is yes.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: She is willing to do it. Has she been asked by any of the lawmakers to do that?
DEBRA KATZ: That’s interesting. The answer is no.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: She has not been asked, but she is now willing to do so. Is she in conversations with people? Have people—have the lawmakers reached out and tried to talk to her via phone?
DEBRA KATZ: We’ve heard from no one. We’ve seen various statements made on television and statements that are being bandied about for political reason, but no one’s asked her. No.
AMY GOODMAN: That was CNN host Alisyn Camerota speaking to Dr. Blasey Ford’s attorney.
Well, for more, we’re joined in our New York studio by Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com. She’s their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter, hosts the podcast Amicus. Her latest story is headlined “Our System Is Too Broken to Assess the Sexual Assault Claim Against Kavanaugh.”
Do you still feel that way as Dr. Blasey has come forward? She has been very clear in this letter, though this letter was not made clear to Democrats or Republicans on the committee until it was leaked by The Intercept and then a series of developments unfolded.
DAHLIA LITHWICK: I think I still feel that way. I feel pretty strongly that neither journalism nor high, high, high-intensity Senate confirmation hearings are the appropriate fact-finding, reason-based enterprises to come to the bottom of this. And I think I probably still feel, as I felt when I wrote the piece, that the cost of forcing somebody into this system, to have this conversation under the klieg lights of a Senate hearing, where nobody is willing to be persuaded because the battle lines have been drawn, is the very, very worst way, if what you really want to do is have a truth-seeking enterprise. This is not the way to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the question is, though: Should Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed as Supreme Court justice? The day that’s set for the Senate Judiciary Committee vote is Thursday. Dr. Blasey has said she will testify about what happened. And Judge Kavanaugh has denied that it happened. But clearly, more can be found out. This is just happening right now at the last minute. And what, Wednesday is Yom Kippur, so that will be a day off, so they only have two days. And interestingly, Dr. Blasey Ford’s lawyer said they have not talked to—no senator has contacted them since yesterday, since her name came forward. Grassley has not.
DAHLIA LITHWICK: It seems to me this materially changes the game. What you’ll hear from the Republican senators in terms of pushback isn’t “I don’t believe her.” It isn’t that she doesn’t have a name and a face, because now she does have a name and a face. So all we’re hearing is “It’s too late. It’s too late. These hearings that we rushed along—we refused to disclose tens and thousands of pages of documents—”
AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain that a little further for people who haven’t been following this.
DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, I think this entire thing was entirely corroded by the fact that for the first time in history, 90 percent of Kavanaugh’s documents were withheld from the public, from the Judiciary Committee. They were being vetted not by the National Archives, as documents have traditionally been vetted; they were being vetted by a Republican lawyer who had worked with Judge Kavanaugh in an earlier life.
The whole system was designed to sort of rocket this thing through with minimal scrutiny, and that’s almost every time that Kavanaugh was tripped up last week in the hearings, it was because something came out that should have been disclosed earlier. And so, this is another matter where you can certainly say, “Oh, it’s too late, it’s too late,” but this time clock was created by the same Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans who held a seat vacant for over a year when it was Merrick Garland’s turn to be vetted.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ian Millhiser into this discussion, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice. Before we get into your piece, Ian, just this latest news and your response?
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah, well, let me say the most important thing I’ll probably say, which is that I believe Christine Blasey Ford. This is a very credible accusation. You know, in journalism, one thing that we look at when a person who is in the news is accused of something is whether the accusers made the accusation before the person was in the news. And in this case, she told her therapist about this in 2012. The Washington Post obtained the therapist’s notes, which is a truly extraordinary thing for a newspaper to obtain. So this is an extraordinarily credible allegation. And I think, in any sensible world, the Senate would hit pause on this confirmation process, they would dig in deep to—into this allegation, and they would not vote to confirm this man unless they were absolutely sure that this allegation was false.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think should happen at this point, Ian?
IAN MILLHISER: Well, I mean, like I said, I think they should hit pause on the nomination. You know, the professor, Ford, has said that she is willing to testify, so they can reopen the hearing. They can bring her in to testify. And the standard here—I mean, at this stage, when we have this credible an allegation, the burden of proof should be on the people who want Kavanaugh to be confirmed. This is not a criminal trial where you have a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. This is a case where Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated to be the fifth vote to kill Roe v. Wade, is going to be given immense power over tens of millions of people, and specifically tens of millions of women, and you don’t give someone that kind of power if you are unsure as to whether or not they committed attempted rape.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Ian Millhiser, editor of ThinkProgress Justice, senior fellow at Center for American Progress Action Fund, and we’re joined by Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com, their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.