#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke on Sexual Assault Allegations Against Kavanaugh: “We Believe Survivors”

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Two women have now publicly accused President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and at least 128 people were arrested on Capitol Hill Monday protesting his confirmation. “This is a time for us to not just show up via a viral hashtag, but in person with our feet to the street to say that we won’t be treated this way and we won’t stand for another survivor to be treated this way,” says Tarana Burke, founder of the “Me Too” movement, who called for the national walkout Monday in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. We also speak with Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to new accusations of sexual assault against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the growing resistance to his confirmation. At least 128 people were arrested on Capitol Hill Monday protesting Kavanaugh, who has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by two women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. This is Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, who called for the national walkout Monday in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence.

TARANA BURKE: Dr. Blasey Ford, like professor Anita Hill before you, we applaud you and your courage. We stand with you, and we will not let your labor be in vain.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a minute, we’ll be joined by Tarana Burke in D.C. On Monday night, Brett Kavanaugh and his wife sat down for an unprecedented interview with Fox News. It was his first public comment since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused the judge of attempting to rape her when she was 15 years old. Kavanaugh denied the allegation.

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH: We’re looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend the—my integrity, my lifelong record—my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women, starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I’m not going anywhere. … I’m not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God, and I have faith in the fairness of the American people. … The truth is, I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in some place, but what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Both Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed the allegations against Kavanaugh and said the full Senate will vote on his confirmation irrespective of what this week’s hearing reveals.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: I want to make it perfectly clear, Mr. President: Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor. Up or down, on the Senate floor, this fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Even as Kavanaugh defended his integrity, The New York Times published a report on how he and his high school football teammates boasted in their yearbooks about sexual exploits at a nearby Catholic girls’ school and described themselves as the “Renate Alumni” in a reference to Renate Schroeder, then a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school. Schroeder responded to the report, saying, quote, “I learned about these yearbook pages only a few days ago. I don’t know what 'Renate Alumnus' actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”

AMY GOODMAN: Even before this report was published, The New Yorker magazine published an account Sunday from a second woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Deborah Ramirez was a student at Yale University with Brett Kavanaugh and said he exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party and thrust his genitals in her face. The New Yorker later updated the story with comments from two former classmates of Kavanaugh’s, Louisa Garry and Dino Ewing, who initially signed a statement of support for Kavanaugh that was provided by his attorneys. They approached The New Yorker after the story was published and asked that their names be removed from the statement, saying they did not wish to dispute Ramirez’s claims.

New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer later tweeted, quote, ”FYI, this means only 4 classmates are keeping their names on a statement disputing Ramirez, and two are implicated in the incident, according to her, and a third one is married to the guy who she recalls saying 'kiss it' at the party,” unquote. Meanwhile, Monday night, lawyer Michael Avenatti said he has multiple clients, and at least one is prepared to come forward publicly within the next 48 hours with additional allegations against Kavanaugh.

For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, who called over the weekend for a national walkout Monday in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, in the wake of the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Tarana established the #MeToo organization in 2006 to focus on young women of color who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. She’s now senior director at Girls for Gender Equity.

Here in New York, Marcy Wheeler is with us, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website EmptyWheel.net.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Tarana, let’s begin with you. A hundred twenty-eight people were arrested protesting Judge Kavanaugh and his nomination to the Supreme Court outside many different senators’ offices, including Senator Collins of Maine. Can you talk about what happened this weekend, why you called for this walkout and protest on Monday?

TARANA BURKE: Hi. Yes. Hi. Thank you for having me back again. We thought it was really important to have a show of support for—initially, when there was the arbitrary deadline set for Dr. Blasey Ford to come forward and make a decision about whether or not she was going to testify, we certainly—myself and many of the other organizations that signed on to do this action on Monday thought it was really important that we came out in a show of force and support for her. And not just for her, but this has been a hard week for survivors of sexual violence around the country, and we needed to do something to show survivors in general that we stand up and we support each other—because most of us are survivors who called for the march—that we support each other, that we will stand up in the face of this treatment and that we won’’t see the same thing that happened to Anita Hill happen again.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tarana Burke, were you surprised by the turnout, not just in D.C., but around the country, to your call? And also, could you respond to the questions that have been raised by some in the Senate about why these women that are raising these allegations took so long to come out and raise them?

TARANA BURKE: Absolutely. Just first, I’m always pleasantly surprised when people show up the way they did. And yesterday in D.C. was a gloomy, rainy day, and we had probably close to a thousand people join us in the Senate and then march to the Supreme Court and stand in the rain, listening to people talk about why this moment is so important and why us standing up and standing together is so important. So, yes, I was so pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

So many people showed up via social media. There were actions in New York and in California and in other places around the country that I think show just how important this issue is to so many of us. This is a time for us to not just show up via a viral hashtag, but in person with our feet to the street to say that we won’t be treated this way and we won’t stand for another survivor to be treated this way.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go back to the specific comment that President Trump made that led to the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Trump tweeted early Friday, quote, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump said. Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine, a key vote in Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, was later asked to respond to Trump’s tweet.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I was appalled by the president’s tweet. First of all, we know that allegations of sexual assault—I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but we know that allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist. So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Maine Senator Susan Collins. Tarana, would you like to respond?

TARANA BURKE: Absolutely. I thought that the tweet was so insensitive, and the reason why you saw such a fierce and quick backlash to it on the internet is because it touched a nerve with so many survivors of sexual violence and allies and supporters. As the senator said, we know that sexual violence is severely underreported.

And it’s also condescending, right? It’s like he’s putting out this tweet with this false sense of, “Well, her loving parents would have reported this incident.” We’re talking about a 15-year-old girl at a party with older boys 36 years ago who probably left that party feeling shameful, feeling confused about what she experienced and any number of emotions that would cause her not to report the incident. And that’s why so many people came forward to talk about their own reasons for not reporting, including myself.

There are so many things that are attributed to the survivor in cases of sexual violence that to say something like that just shows his deep insensitivity. But it also shows what is a widely held belief about sexual violence in this country. And I’m not glad that he said it at all, but it did give us an opportunity to push back and sort of educate the public about the realities of what it is to be a survivor of sexual violence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the hearing that we’ll be seeing on Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee harkens back to the Anita Hill hearings against Clarence Thomas when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Do you think much has changed, or what, in your view, has changed in the country since then?

TARANA BURKE: You know, it’s really shameful. I was a freshman in college during the Anita Hill hearings, and I remember it very, very well. It left a mark on me as a young woman, a young black woman. And it’s really shameful for America. It’s not our shame; I think it’s really shameful for the United States government that we are back here 27 years later with little evidence that anything has changed.

I mean, you have some of the same people, the same—Orrin Hatch, who was on the Senate Judiciary Committee during Anita Hill’s hearing, saying some some similar things, talking about “Dr. Blasey Ford must be confused.” It really is sad that we haven’t learned enough in this country. And this is why #MeToo took off, this is why #WhyIDidntReport took off, because there really is a gap in the understanding of the life cycle of survivors of sexual violence, widely across—I think in the pop culture in general, in the country in general, but certainly in our government.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Media Matters senior fellow Matthew Gertz, who tweeted on Monday—he was talking about William Shine, and he said, quote, “WH comms director accused of covering up sexual misconduct at Fox chooses Fox host who defended network’s leading perpetrator of sexual misconduct to interview SCOTUS nominee accused of sexual misconduct who was picked by president accused of sexual misconduct.” That is the tweet. William Shine, the current White House deputy chief of staff for communications, former co-president of Fox News.

Let me bring Marcy Wheeler into this discussion at this point to respond to this and this unprecedented moment where the Supreme Court nominee sits down with his wife, Ashley, for a Fox interview. Interestingly enough, when the interviewer asked him, “Would you call for an FBI investigation?” of course he skirted this.

MARCY WHEELER: Actually, the interviewer asked his wife first, and he interrupted and didn’t let her answer, and skirted the answer. So it’s another example where it’s not sexual assault, but it’s a clear sign that he doesn’t respect women. He doesn’t want women to have their own autonomy to answer the basic questions.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, going to the issue of an investigation, if he, as he said throughout, this never happened, why not say, “Sure, let the FBI investigate. It will just prove my point”?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, the other thing is, he kept repeating over and over again, “I’ve never committed sexual assault.” I really feel like we’re headed towards a “What’s the definition—it depends on what the definition of sexual assault is,” just, you know, as Clinton tried to get away with, “It depends on what the definition of 'is' is.” Because I can imagine him saying, “Well, sticking my penis in a woman’s face is not sexual assault, because no vaginal contact happened.” Is that what he’s thinking? Is that where we’re going?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I want to just ask one question of Tarana Burke, following up on that. There’s this unbelievable moment in this interview where the interviewer asks him about how long he was a virgin. And this is now—people are laughing about this, saying this is what this has all come to. What does that have to do, Tarana Burke, with whether or not he sexually assaulted somebody?

TARANA BURKE: Nothing. It has nothing to do with it. Whether he was a virgin or not, what Dr. Blasey Ford accused him of is absolutely what she described: It’s sexual assault.
It has nothing to do with whether he had had actual intercourse with somebody else or not.
And as a matter of fact—and I don’t want to dig into psychological things in his personal life, but you were in a high school with highly privileged other people. There are lots of accounts from his best friend of drunkenness and parties and things like that. I can see a 17-year-old virgin trying to prove themself to be like his boys and doing something like Dr. Blasey Ford described. So, the whole question about him being a virgin during this time means that he didn’t commit sexual assault is incredibly—is not relevant to this moment. And I agree with your other guest that said that—

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler.

TARANA BURKE: Mary Wheeler—I’m sorry—I agree with you about—I think we’re going down a dangerous road of what is sexual assault in answering these questions, just based on how he answered last night.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Marcy, I’d like to ask you, in terms of the movement now of the Senate Judiciary Committee to have this hearing on Thursday, what’s the rush? Given the fact, as many people have said, that the Senate waited a full year and didn’t even give a hearing to Merrick Garland when President Obama named him, what is the rush in getting this hearing done and a vote done, as Mitch McConnell hopes, this week?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, one of the rushes is that we know the Republicans are learning of additional allegations as they’re rushing things forward, so they’re trying to get a hearing in, a vote done, before another allegation and another allegation and another allegation comes forward, because we’re close to four at this point. If those become solidified, it becomes a very different issue, both for whether Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice, but also what his future is on the D.C. Circuit.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you—Marcy Wheeler, you’ve been following all the Kavanaugh hearings very closely and what this all means at this point. This new hearing is set for Thursday. Mitch McConnell says they want a vote in the committee on Friday. And you heard him say he’s going to take this to the floor of the Senate. You have Orrin Hatch, who served on this committee and Anita Hill’s committee, saying he will support Kavanaugh no matter what; it doesn’t matter what Dr. Blasey Ford says. Your thoughts on just where this is headed and this being just, what, five, six weeks before the midterm elections?

MARCY WHEELER: I think it’s a game of chicken between Mitch McConnell and Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski, because both of those women appear to be taking these allegations very seriously, as well as the rest of Kavanaugh’s record. I mean, there are other parts of Kavanaugh’s record which are troublesome. He still won’t say what he defines as abortion, whether he defines birth control as abortion, for example. And I think that that goes to the issue—he refused to hand over—he refused to look in his emails to see whether he had received sexually explicit emails from Judge Kozinski. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Kozinski, the judge who was forced to retire last December.

MARCY WHEELER: A longtime mentor of his. And so, Kozinski—

AMY GOODMAN: Because of sexual—

MARCY WHEELER: Because of sexual harassment. So, you know, he was asked repeatedly, “Were you party to these sexually explicit emails?” And he just obstinately refused to even look.

AMY GOODMAN: But he came up with a calendar from 1982 when he was in high school to prove he was not at a party on a certain date that Dr. Blasey Ford never said a date.

MARCY WHEELER: Right, and won’t look at emails from last year. So, I think these things are all becoming an issue. And if McConnell moves it to the floor of the Senate immediately, then the focus becomes those two women and whether they’re going to vote against Kavanaugh and against their party to defeat this nomination. And again, it’s a rush. I think that they are trying to rush out ahead of other allegations. I think they’re trying to rush out before we take a step back and put the entire picture together, because, again, these sexual assault allegations are very much a party with other pieces of evidence that Judge Kavanaugh both doesn’t respect women and doesn’t tell the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, if Kavanaugh doesn’t get the nod to be Supreme Court justice, he remains on the federal bench. Should he be impeached?

MARCY WHEELER: I think we’re going to hear those questions going forward, particularly depending on what happens in the election and whether Democrats take the House and Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us. Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, usually in New York but now in Washington. She participated in the mass protest against Brett Kavanaugh in Washington. But they were not only there; they were all over the country. Marcy Wheeler, we’d like to ask you to stay with us to talk about Rod Rosenstein, another major controversy that’s brewing. Marcy Wheeler with EmptyWheel.net.

Then we’ll be joined by, well, now Rutgers University professor Naomi Klein to speak, along with Juan González, about what’s happening in Puerto Rico right now and President Trump’s latest comment that he won’t support statehood until the San Juan mayor is out. Stay with us.

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