- Robin PogrebinNew York Times reporter and co-author of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.
This month marks one year since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice. A new book by two reporters at The New York Times raises questions about how the FBI conducted its background check of Kavanaugh after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. First, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when they were both teenagers in the 1980s. Then, another woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused Kavanaugh of thrusting his penis at her during a drunken party at Yale, where they were both students, forcing her to touch it while she swatted it away. Despite widespread outrage and opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination due to these allegations, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate. Democracy Now! recently spoke to Robin Pogrebin, co-author of the book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is in the spotlight again for alleged sexual misconduct, one year after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh, in a historic congressional testimony, of attempting to rape her when they were both teenagers in the 1980s. Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, also came out around the time of the confirmation hearings to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of thrusting his penis at her during a drunken party at Yale, where they were both students, forcing her to touch it while she swatted it away. Despite widespread outrage and opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination due to these allegations, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate.
An investigation by two journalists into Ramirez’s allegations has revealed that at least seven people, including Ramirez’s mother, knew of the incident for years. Some had learned of it in the days after it happened. The investigation also found the FBI never followed up on a list of 25 people provided by Ramirez who could corroborate her story, nor did they follow up on information about another accusation of sexual misconduct, this time by a witness.
These revelations appear in a new book, just out, as well as a recent piece in The New York Times, an excerpt of that book. The book is called The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation. It’s by New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. Robin Pogrebin joins us now.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ROBIN POGREBIN: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve had quite a whirlwind piece — week, since that piece came out in The New York Times, the excerpt. Let’s start with this investigation you did, a very deep dive into what happened a year ago. At the time, it was very hard to figure out what the FBI was doing. I mean, the activists clearly weighed in on Jeff Flake, now retired, the senator from Arizona, putting their foot in the elevator doorway to demand he not support the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. When he entered that Senate hearing room, he said, “Let’s make a deal.” And he and Chris Coons, together, said, “Let’s stop. Let’s have an FBI investigation.” To the shock of many, this FBI investigation, the length of it wasn’t determined by, well, just what the FBI agents would discover, but it would be a preset amount of time. It was hard to know who was talked to at that time. You’ve spent this year researching this. What did you find?
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes. I mean — and thank you, Amy, for that question, for having me. That’s very much what motivated our — that was our impetus for going back at this story and for actually doing this book in the first place, the fact that so many people kind of came away from this experience feeling unsatisfied, unsettled, unfinished, frankly, and that these events were flying by in real time in a way that was kind of impossible to really process them and get a sense of what was going on and who was calling the shots, frankly. And so, the FBI investigation was, you know, one of those areas that we really felt merited deeper exploration.
And — excuse me — what we found was that just there were just a lot of meaningful kind of leads and sort of threads that were not followed up on. And then kind of exploring why that was, who those — some of those people were and what they had to say, as well as why this investigation, such as it was, was so circumscribed, and kind of the people behind it, and the fact that, indeed, you know, it really was sort of meant to be something that — you know, as Kellyanne Conway said, she didn’t want it to be a fishing expedition. They were very concerned that they couldn’t wrap this up in advance of the midterm elections and before the court’s term started. So the Republicans had a real sort of incentive to fast-track this, and they tried to control it quite tightly.
AMY GOODMAN: So, take us back a year ago. Even remind us how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford entered into the discussion about Justice Kavanaugh — well, at the time, Brett Kavanaugh, the federal court judge.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes, I think that was another sort of fascinating part for us, was really trying to deconstruct her coming forward in the first place, the extensive effort she went to to really not — never become public, to kind of maintain her privacy, how she went to her local congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, and kind of confided in her and sort of said, you know, “How can you help me? And how can you help me without anyone finding out who I am?” And Anna Eshoo talks to me about how she was really struck by how kind of naive Christine Blasey Ford was, kind of not really understanding what she was about to sort of unleash, you know, trying to keep her identity private, but realizing that was going to be difficult to do if she wanted to get these allegations into the hands of the people who were the decision makers. So that was fascinating. And then that whole kind of process that Senator Feinstein went through in trying to both maintain and respect Christine Blasey Ford’s privacy, as well as to convey this information to the appropriate authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, then, how did her name become public, her story get out, and then this historic testimony, obviously, reminiscent of Anita Hill, where this woman, who many had not even seen a picture of before, is invited to walk into this hearing room and challenge the man who would become the justice of the United States?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I mean, it’s a good question. I think everyone is kind of wondering how this leaked in the first place, how her name did sort of get forced out into the open. From what we understand, there were sort of two channels. One, she did go to her congresswoman. She also called the tip line of The Washington Post, and then ultimately had conversations with that reporter. So, it sort of unleashed a series of events. She was talking to a small group of friends in her kind of West Coast community, and perhaps there was some kind of filtering out that happened there.
But what was interesting is that even though she’s a professor, there is kind of a network, it seems, of, you know, one person leads to another person. And even this made its way to Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, who was aware and kind of offered help. And ultimately, we found, actually, a kind of a fun detail in our book, is that Reid Hoffman, the kind of entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, is the one who flew her to D.C. in the end, so that she could have privacy on the plane. So, there was this kind of a sort of a rallying around her, once her identity did come out. Ultimately, somebody showed up in her classroom, a journalist, who kind of pretended to be a student and sort of ambushed her, and she realized sort of the train had left the station. There was no way that she could preserve her identity anymore and keep it secret.
AMY GOODMAN: So, she comes to Washington, D.C., and she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the psychologist, testifies about how Brett Kavanaugh allegedly attacked her when she was 15 and he, 17.
DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: When I got to the small gathering, people were drinking beer in a small living room/family room-type area on the first floor of the house. I drank one beer. Brett and Mark were visibly drunk. Early in the evening, I went up a very narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the restroom. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom across from the bathroom. I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room.
I was pushed onto the bed, and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me, and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was very inebriated and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit underneath my clothing. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.
Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They seemed to be having a very good time. Mark seemed ambivalent, at times urging Brett on and at times telling him to stop. A couple of times, I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not. During this assault, Mark came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me. And the last time that he did this, we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me. I was able to get up and run out of the room.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in this riveting, horrifying testimony. And this is Brett Kavanaugh, who repeatedly claimed that the people Dr. Blasey Ford said were at the house the night of the alleged attack have said the gathering didn’t happen.
JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH: All four witnesses who are alleged to be at the event said it didn’t happened, including Dr. Ford’s longtime friend Ms. Keyser, who said that she didn’t know me and that she does not recall ever being at a party with me, with or without Dr. Ford.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Brett Kavanaugh, answering Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Describe how that hearing happened and the kind of questioning, with the lawyer that the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican-led, brought in, not wanting to have the optics of these white older men questioning Dr. Ford, but she only went so far when it came to Brett Kavanaugh, because she was pulled out.
ROBIN POGREBIN: That’s right. I mean, I think, ultimately — and you mentioned Anita Hill — there was an increasing sensitivity, this many years later, to these kinds of allegations. We’re living in the #MeToo era, and there is just a kind of a heightened awareness now about sexual misconduct around this country, and so the senators knew that it might look very bad to have kind of a panel of white men asking somewhat prosecutorial questions of Christine Blasey Ford. So they did bring in a female prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell. And, you know, after some kind of dutiful questioning on her part, you know, ultimately, the Republicans kind of jettisoned her and sort of went off on their own, as you recall.
AMY GOODMAN: I think they got a little nervous that she was asking a bit too prosecutorial questions of Brett Kavanaugh.
ROBIN POGREBIN: That’s right. And I think also, you know, what was fascinating to me was there was just so much of the country, after hearing Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, were sort of saying he’s finished. It was so compelling that even President Trump said, “That’s a compelling testimony.” I think that people really were worried about his confirmation, his nomination, at that point. But then, when he came out swinging, you know, the whole tenor shifted back in his favor. And I think he’s had Lindsey Graham kind of going off and sort of setting the tone for a real indignation, that then prevailed for the rest of the hearings.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Deborah Ramirez, the woman who also had made charges against Brett Kavanaugh, who you went out and interviewed in Boulder, Colorado.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes. I mean, it was important to go back at the Deborah Ramirez story, because we felt like it got short shrift in the first time around and was somewhat overshadowed by other allegations that were somewhat coming fast and furious, that people couldn’t really make sense of, when actually there was sort of, it seemed like, significant corroboration for her story, and really trying to lay out what that corroboration was.
And what we found was that seven people had heard about this story, this event, before Brett Kavanaugh became a federal judge. And they included two people, on campus, two classmates, who heard about it shortly thereafter, as well as Deborah Ramirez’s mother, which has never really been reported, where Debbie sat across from her mother within a year of this happening and said, you know, that “Something happened to me at Yale.” And her mother said to me that she was crying. She was so convulsed, that her mother thought she had been raped, and asked Debbie if she wanted her to go to the Yale authorities on her behalf. So, there was a lot around that. And also I thought it was important to really flesh out why this was so impactful to someone like Deborah Ramirez.
AMY GOODMAN: So, first of all, tell us what Deborah Ramirez alleged, and then tell us the story of Deborah Ramirez at Yale.
ROBIN POGREBIN: OK. So, what she alleged was that at a dorm party freshman year in Lawrance Hall, which actually is also where I lived as a Yale classmate of Brett Kavanaugh’s, which is how I became part of the story in the first place for The New York Times — she alleges that there was a drinking game. They were sort of passing beer around, a small group of guys and her. They kept —
AMY GOODMAN: This was her freshman year.
ROBIN POGREBIN: This was her freshman year. They kept saying, “Drink, Debbie! Drink!” You know, she did. She hadn’t had experience with alcohol. Suddenly there was a fake penis in her face, that maybe someone had strapped on. And then the next thing she knew there was a real penis in her face. She didn’t realize it was real, swatted it away, thinking it was the fake one, and was caught up short, because she thought she’d never touch a penis until she was married. She had a very sheltered Catholic upbringing. So, that was very jarring. And also, she remembers these guys laughing at her, people who she thought were her friends. And she remembers Brett sort of laughing as he pulled up his pants, and someone shouting down the hall, “Brett just put his penis in Debbie’s face!” So, that’s what she alleges occurred.
And, you know, basically, the reason why this was so impactful, not to mention that this is kind of unacceptable behavior, is that, you know, she had come to Yale from a very different background from someone like Brett Kavanaugh, where there are people who come to Yale, and it’s kind of a seamless transition from perhaps an upper-middle-class private school. In her case, she was from a working-class background in Shelton, Connecticut. Her father was a cable splicer. She worked her way through Yale, working in college dorms kind of on reunions and serving —
AMY GOODMAN: She was Puerto Rican, young woman of color.
ROBIN POGREBIN: She was Rican Rican, young woman of color. She had kind of, you know, sort of said, “I can do this, I can go to Yale,” even though her mother said she was worried about her. And they just sort of scraped together enough money to make it possible.
And even when she got there, I mean, some of the stuff she talks about is sort of these disparaging remarks, that were like, you know, about her clothing, for example, or the fact that she had joined the cheerleading squad and that was kind of uncool, or, you know, kind of “Hide the knives,” when she came in, as if — you know, kind of a Puerto Rican slur, or, you know, “Did you get in here because you’re Puerto Rican?” And all that added up to her feeling like, “Maybe I don’t deserve to be here in the first place. Maybe I can’t hack it.” And so, this experience with Brett Kavanaugh that she alleges only confirmed that sense of inadequacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Brett Kavanaugh denying the charges made by Debbie Ramirez, a fellow Yale classmate.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And what you’re saying, if I understand it, is that the allegations by Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez and Ms. Swetnick are wrong.
JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH: That is emphatically what I’m saying. Emphatically.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Brett Kavanaugh denying the charges adamantly, saying that no one had witnesses, all the witnesses say this hadn’t happened. But, in fact, that wasn’t true. And explain who came forward to the FBI, who got interviewed and who didn’t, Robin Pogrebin.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Well, I think it’s an important distinction that there are not witnesses who have come forward. Those who Debbie puts in the room have not spoken up about this. They originally kind of came together and issued a statement, that was given to The New Yorker, which first reported these allegations, but they did it without putting their names to it. And they have since not kind of responded to our requests for interviews. So, you know, as far as the witnesses are concerned, we haven’t heard from them.
Who we have heard from are people who had heard about this independently of Debbie telling them. They heard this story at Yale, that this had happened. And that was meaningful. There were several of them. There’s also a woman who kind of attests to Debbie telling her about it after college, and she signed a sworn affidavit attesting to that, that was submitted to the FBI. There were also a slew of classmates —
AMY GOODMAN: Did they interview her?
ROBIN POGREBIN: And they did not interview her. And there were a slew of classmates who tried to get through to the FBI. And their stories, you know, are quite powerful, of, you know, staying on hold, being like sent to the tip line, you know, going to FBI offices locally, and getting nowhere. So, there was this effort to sort of at least pull the information that people had out there, that was never followed up on and that the FBI, frankly, decided to ignore. Or, rather, our government did, because they were the ones directing the inquiry.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
ROBIN POGREBIN: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: That White House were the ones directing the inquiry.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes, I think that’s something people also aren’t clear on, was the White House — the president was the client. It was up to him to say how far he wanted this to go and what he wanted the scope to be. And they at first were only going to interview four people. Then they finally expanded it a little bit. But, you know, ultimately, they definitely wanted to keep this contained.
And we have an interesting anecdote in the book in which we talk about how Debbie Ramirez was interviewed by two FBI agents in Boulder, Colorado, in her lawyers’ office. And they said at the end of the interview, “We find you credible,” and kind of were almost apologetic, in the words of one of her attorneys, because they were kind of like, “Our hands are tied. We can only do as much as we’re directed to do.”
AMY GOODMAN: And so, do you — were you able to find out who was spoken to?
ROBIN POGREBIN: We were —
AMY GOODMAN: By the FBI.
ROBIN POGREBIN: There is actually a report that was issued by Grassley’s office that says they had — they spoke to 10 witnesses, and makes clear that basically it was the people sort of in closest proximity to these events, both the Blasey Ford events and Deborah Ramirez. What’s interesting is they never interviewed Brett Kavanaugh; they never interviewed Christine Blasey Ford again. They considered their public testimony sufficient, arguably.
AMY GOODMAN: And what’s wrong with that, Robin?
ROBIN POGREBIN: Well, because, I mean, there’s possibly things people didn’t say publicly. There are things we know that Christine Blasey Ford was absolutely fanatical about sort of testifying publicly only about what she was sure of. There are other things that she has that she feels like might have shed light on her story and perhaps added credence to it. But she wanted to be absolutely precise in her public testimony about what she was 100% sure of. And so, there is definitely context for both of their testimonies, that, you know, potentially could have been further explored.
AMY GOODMAN: And then there was the third woman. Tell us about her.
ROBIN POGREBIN: So, we also found this other allegation where basically a classmate of both Deborah Ramirez and Brett Kavanaugh — his name is Max Stier — observed — and this was striking because he was an actual witness. He saw something at a party, where he saw Brett’s — everybody was drunk. It was another very drunken party. Brett’s friends took Brett over, with his pants down, to another classmate and put his penis in her hand. This was meaningful, because it added — you know, it reinforced the Ramirez story. It happened the same year in a same kind of situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, it goes to the issue of pattern.
ROBIN POGREBIN: It goes to the issue of pattern, and also the fact that Max Stier went to considerable lengths to try to convey this information to the people who mattered.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain who Max Stier is, well known in Washington.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes, he’s well known in Washington, and actually well respected, because he runs a nonpartisan good government organization. You know, yes, he kind of worked on the Lewinsky matter, but he also had clerked for Justice Souter. And he worked for conservative judges and Republicans, so — and then, he’s just the kind of person without an axe to grind and who — it would be a very reluctant person to come forward. And he was reluctant. He had had no interest in talking to the press and making this a public story. He only wanted to bring it to senators and the FBI, from our understanding, and did so, as Senator Coons has now affirmed. He knew about the story and did try to get it into the right hands.
AMY GOODMAN: He wrote a letter to Senator Coons?
ROBIN POGREBIN: He met — it seems like he communicated directly with Senator Coons, and others. We have at least two other senators who were also aware of this, these allegations. Once again, that was a dead end.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what has happened with this third woman? And this goes to a controversy around the book. You included a small part about her in the excerpt in The New York Times last weekend. You identify her in the book, but in The New York Times, she wasn’t identified.
ROBIN POGREBIN: That’s right. I mean, we decided that in terms of excepting this book, you know, this book is a very kind of nuanced, in-depth look at going back at these events. So, we didn’t feel like the takeaway was this new allegation. We felt like the takeaway was a deeper understanding of events that had been, frankly, very politicized at the time. So we decided to excerpt the Ramirez story, which was very compelling in terms of the new kind of corroboration around it, as well as her experience at Yale, which we feel is kind of a timeless story for people of color now and anyone who’s sort of feeling like an outsider in an Ivy League setting. That’s why we chose that excerpt.
And in it, we included the Stier allegation, because of the reasons I described to you. And we had her name and the fact that her friends say she doesn’t remember it. Our editor was concerned about using her name, because in the past the Times has a history of kind of withholding the names of victims. We don’t necessarily want it to shame them in any way, and we also don’t want to send the press to their door. And so he took out that entire sentence, which also included the fact that her friends didn’t remember it. The press —
AMY GOODMAN: That she didn’t remember it.
ROBIN POGREBIN: That she didn’t remember it. Her friends say that she didn’t remember it. And, unfortunately, you know, the right has made quite a lot of this. And it’s unfortunate, because we feel like it’s obscured the more kind of subtlety and in-depth efforts we made with our book.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the significance of this. She says she didn’t remember it. That could either be she does not want to enter this public debate, or it could mean that she actually didn’t remember it. But you have the people who were standing right there who saw it with their own eyes, like Max Stier alleges.
ROBIN POGREBIN: That’s right. We have Max Stier saying he saw it with his own eyes, which was compelling. And also, frankly, everyone was very drunk. And so, as we know from this entire process, you know, memory is a tricky thing. And, you know, there are some times when you’re too drunk to remember things. So what we do in this book is try to put all that information out there and let the reader decide.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why did you decide to name her in the book, although the Times wouldn’t name her in the article excerpt that they took from your book?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I mean, it’s interesting. The book sort of has different standards, in the sense that we felt like we needed to put every single fact out there. What’s also compelling that people haven’t really focused on, and we certainly haven’t necessarily played it up, is that Tracy and Debbie were closest of friends. So, this was — sort of speaks to this milieu that they were in. And that was important. But, basically, we wanted to pull no punches, just put it all out there and let people kind of assess for themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: What has she said since? I mean, your book has come out; her name is known.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes. And, unfortunately, she has been ambushed at her house, which is unfortunate. It’s the last thing, I think, she wanted. She didn’t want to talk to us about this allegation at all. But she did give me a statement that she prepared about Debbie, because she feels very close to Debbie and thinks very highly of her and wanted to speak to her veracity.
But this one interesting tidbit is, apparently, what she did say, we heard on The View, when we appeared there, that she said to reporters who asked her about this, “Ask Brett.” So, that seems somewhat meaningful, basically turning it back on him. If you want to ask about this incident, why don’t you ask the justice?
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Meghan McCain challenging you on The View.
MEGHAN McCAIN: The New York Times ran an excerpt of your book over the weekend in the opinion section, that included a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh. But you guys left out a key detail, that the alleged victim, who you name by name in the book, but you’re not going to name her here on the show, quote, “refused to discuss the incident,” and, quote, “several of her friends said that they do not recall it happening.”
WHOOPIE GOLDBERG: She doesn’t.
MEGHAN McCAIN: So — yes, I’m sorry —
KATE KELLY: She doesn’t recall.
MEGHAN McCAIN: — that she doesn’t recall it happening. I think this is sort of ground zero for why so many people mistrust the media, why The New York Times has the nickname for “New York Slime” with many people in conservative circles.
AMY GOODMAN: So, they’re going after you every which way.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: People are. That’s Meghan McCain, you know, talking about why you didn’t say that she didn’t know. And talk about the attack on you, the reporters, and on the book, who you think is behind this.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Well, I mean, it’s hard to kind of point fingers and figure out exactly where it’s coming from and what’s fueling it, except to say that, you know, this is exactly the issue we explore in our book, which is that this was such a hot-button, galvanizing event in our country’s history, that people are, frankly, still haunted by. And, you know, I don’t need to tell you that like around dinner tables all over the country, people talked about it then and continue to talk about it, with very strong feelings on either side. And it has to do with the political moment we’re in under the Trump administration, I think, where there is no such thing as kind of the messy middle, as, you know, The Washington Post review of our book describes. You know, basically, people take sides, and they very much kind of get calcified in those positions. And that’s where I think we are. There is no real sort of effort to have an in-depth inquiry. I mean, people were weighing in on our book before it was released. People — you know, senators, Democratic candidates were calling for his impeachment before the book was out.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, because you have one woman after another, and not only the women, but other witnesses, verifying this, and the very limited FBI investigation that was done, if you could even call it an investigation.
ROBIN POGREBIN: I think that a lot of people — there’s a lot of outrage around that, for sure. But I also think this is a #MeToo moment, which we can’t ignore, which is this is a moment of sensitivity and the feeling that, you know, yes, we had that Anita Hill experience, and Clarence Thomas was confirmed. Now we had Christine Blasey Ford coming forward, and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, that there are some people who feel like, you know, where — how far have we come, and what does this say about progress?
ROBIN POGREBIN: It’s amazing. You now have these two Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, who have both been charged by women with abusing them, in some way sexually mistreating or attacking them, in the case of Christine Blasey Ford. I wanted to turn to President Trump, who, after your piece appeared in The New York Times, was asked about whether the newspaper should fire you for writing about the allegations.
REPORTER: Do you think The New York Times should fire the individuals responsible for claiming that Kavanaugh committed sexual misconduct, without including exculpatory information?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think The New York Times made another terrible mistake. It’s — it’s a shame that a thing like that could happen. I see they’re making a big correction today. They’ve just announced there’s a correction. But to do that about a Supreme Court justice is a terrible thing. It’s a false accusation. Whatever happened with The New York Times? I mean, I could tell you personally, they never check. They never do. We used to have a thing called fact-checking. They don’t do fact-checking anymore. They used to call and say, “What about this? What about that?” How can they do a thing like that and destroy somebody’s life? I mean, they’re destroying lives. And it’s fake news. It’s just fake news. But it’s a very fair question. I mean, they have to be very embarrassed. But much more importantly, what they do is wrong, and they do it all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s President Trump, Robin Pogrebin. He’s talking about you and Kate Kelly.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah, I mean, he’s apparently quoted — he’s tweeted nine times about our book, which is a kind of publicity we never anticipated. I mean, I think, again, that this is unfortunate that, you know, people have — what they’ve done is seized on aspects of this, including, unfortunately, a sentence that was removed and put back. I mean, it wasn’t me, and it was put back, and there was an editor’s note acknowledging that. But kind of as we were talking about before the show, you know, there’s a crack in the armor, and they drive a truck through it. And, unfortunately, you have to be kind of prepared for everything.
And what we’re just trying to do is put the focus back on what our efforts were here, which was not to kind of produce a piece of advocacy journalism, but to kind of ask people to look back at these events with, frankly, more open minds. And that includes kind of a deeper exploration of who Brett Kavanaugh is. There are many people who sort of demonized him from the beginning and just assumed that all these allegations were true. And we’ve looked back in depth at his judicial record in 12 years on the 2nd Circuit. We’ve looked back at his personal development. We’ve looked — we’ve talked to female clerks of his about his efforts on their behalf. We’ve tried to flesh him out as a three-dimensional human being.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about the difference in response of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Debbie Ramirez, how they feel about what took place. Interestingly, even with this extremely flawed FBI investigation, you say Deborah Ramirez is hopeful.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah, I mean, I think I was very much struck by — I’m not sure, if I had spoken to her right after the hearings, she would have said this, but I think with the benefit of time, there was an outpouring of support, both for Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, not only from victims, hugely from victims, saying, “Thank you for speaking for me and speaking my story and making me feel emboldened to come forward, making me feel less alone,” but also kind of men saying, “I’m talking to my sons differently about how to treat women,” doctors saying, “I’m talking to my patients differently because of you.” So I think she sees those developments as good, that she’s contributed to a healthy conversation. And I think, you know, if you talk to Debbie now, that’s her emphasis, which is, you know, on kind of the victims and kind of making sure that her story sort of goes towards helping others
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, still has to have security —
ROBIN POGREBIN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, for her family, feels extremely threatened.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah, under siege. And that’s kind of a nightmare and a really unfortunate outcome, given that someone like her, you know, I think this was sort of the last thing she wanted. And it has upended her life.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the controversial tweet that you say you wrote —
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — but didn’t plan that it was getting out. You said, “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.” Explain what happened, for those who are not in the know.
ROBIN POGREBIN: OK. You know, basically, we draft
tweets. I mean, certainly on the desk that I work on, you’re supposed to draft like two tweets per story. Sometimes they go out, sometimes they don’t. It’s kind of like an idea. And this one was obviously a very poorly worded one.
What I was trying to get at was this argument of “boys will be boys,” which has been used frequently in the course of our reporting, that there is a spectrum of behavior of sexual misconduct, and that perhaps someone pulling down his pants at a drunken party does not necessarily — is not necessarily as severe as some other forms of sexual assault. What I was trying to say is, for those who would minimize this, it actually is significant, it is unacceptable. And it was sort of incredibly meaningful to someone like Deborah Ramirez, as it would be for any woman.
Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. I should say that it wasn’t our social medias team. From my understanding, they had nothing to do with this. This is a separate operation in the opinion section where this ran, and it was an editorial oversight. They regret it hugely. But again, you know, it is a small part of what we’re trying to do on a larger level, which is to kind of start this conversation again and look at these allegations and this entire confirmation process and just examine it in a much more — in a much deeper light, in a much more thoughtful one, and actually, frankly, you know, try to be as fair as possible about evaluating all sides.
AMY GOODMAN: And then there’s the placement of this piece. I mean, you were exposing new information. The excerpt of your book was in the opinion section. You had done a lot of original investigative research. Why it wasn’t on the front page? And asking if this isn’t a pattern at The New York Times? When Jean Carroll came forward and recently charged President Trump with rape, raping her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman, yes, it was coming out in her book, but this just came out in the book section, of this very significant revelation against the most powerful person in the world, the president of the United States, as opposed to a story on the front page of The New York Times.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Well, first, I would say that, you know, the sections, I think, are somewhat of a relic of the past, given that we’re in a digital world. We’re a digital-first organization now, and where things appear seems to be less meaningful, because we are putting them out on our website, and we certainly featured this prominently. That’s number one.
Number two, we do have news in the week in — in the Sunday Review section often. That is — it was labeled a news analysis. When Maureen Dowd, for example, did a piece on Uma Thurman and her allegations against Tarantino, the director, that was on the front page of the Sunday Review. So there are different places in which things appear. The Sunday Review also runs book excerpts, and where book excerpts go is kind of up for grabs, to some extent.
We also, frankly, did weigh whether we wanted to kind of lead with the news. And quite frankly, ironically, we didn’t feel like this was a thing we wanted to emphasize. These allegations are not the biggest part of our book, by any means. In fact, we were kind of thinking that like nuance doesn’t make headlines, that our book is going to kind of ultimately satisfy no one, because we are being — trying to be so fair and sort of portray all sides of this very controversial issue. So, pulling that out, we actually misrepresent the book. And so, what we wanted to do was put it in the context of the Deborah Ramirez story.
AMY GOODMAN: But that’s what you wanted to do with your book. But you’re also New York Times reporters, and it is a — well, you certainly sometimes have more than one story about — I mean, you can have hundreds of stories on a particular issue. You’ve got your book excerpt. But then you’ve got your very well-reported investigation that’s come out with new information, that should be on the front page of the Times.
ROBIN POGREBIN: You could say that, arguably, but, you know, the Max Stier allegations are two paragraphs in a book that’s almost 300 pages, number one. And then the Times did do a front-page story on the fact that Coons had received these allegations from Max Stier and tried to bring them to appropriate attention.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Robin Pogrebin, what most shocked you in this year as you did this investigation?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I think it was kind of challenging preconceptions, quite frankly, my own, as well as, you know, the people we talked to. There is, you know, the sense that there is a real knee-jerk response to these kinds of issues now, in terms of #MeToo, in terms of kind of a Trump era where, you know, opinion is sort of just flying all over the internet. I think just sort of asking people to kind of stop and say, “You know what? How much did you really know about this story? Because we’re going to tell you more, and then why don’t we talk?” So that, to me, was — and it was important for me to challenge my own.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you you interviewed Dr. Blasey Ford — actually, Kate Kelly did.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed Deborah Ramirez.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened with Brett Kavanaugh?
ROBIN POGREBIN: So, we tried to talk to Brett. We wanted very much talk to Justice Kavanaugh.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you were his classmate at Yale?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I was his classmate.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know him personally then?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I knew him to say hello to him. My college roommates were varsity athletes. He kind of moved in a varsity athlete world, so there was overlap socially. He didn’t make a strong impression on me. I wasn’t sure he would remember what I looked like. But, you know, to his credit, he engaged with us and, I think, you know, wanted to convey his side of things. I think he was also, understandably, cautious. And I think, you know, Supreme Court justices don’t usually talk to the press. And so, we ultimately could not come to terms on the sort of the ground rules of an interview.
AMY GOODMAN: HuffPost put it slightly differently: “NY Times Reporters Say Kavanaugh Asked Them to Lie in Exchange for an Interview.” Explain exactly what happened.
ROBIN POGREBIN: OK. You know, basically, what happened was, we offered — there are ways in which, when you talk to people — and both Kate and I are beat reporters. We understand that you really very much need sources to talk to you on background, to talk to you off the record, in order to inform your reporting. That is true when you’re having people contribute to a story. In this case, Brett Kavanaugh was the subject of our book. So we didn’t feel it would be fair to speak to him in any capacity and then say we hadn’t spoken to him.
AMY GOODMAN: So he wanted you to lie.
ROBIN POGREBIN: He — I mean, we had offered the idea that — of saying nothing at all about our sources. We wouldn’t say anything about Blasey Ford. We wouldn’t say anything about him. That was unacceptable. Through his representative, who we were dealing with, we were told that we needed to include a line definitively saying he declined to comment.
AMY GOODMAN: So that he was demanding that you lie in order to talk to him.
ROBIN POGREBIN: People can make their own judgments.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about an issue that you raise in your book about the preparation for potential judges, the kind of questioning that they go through. This is a very expensive process, the whole campaign, with practice sessions, known as “moots” —
ROBIN POGREBIN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — or “murder boards.” Explain what that is.
ROBIN POGREBIN: Yeah, this was fascinating to us. It was basically that in preparing to testify — and this was even before the Christine Blasey Ford allegations came to light — Justice Kavanaugh, then Judge Kavanaugh, was kind of in these sort of preparation sessions with various members of the team, including sometimes some senators came by. It was also communications people. It was like a candidate would prepare for a debate. He gets asked the hardest possible questions, so that he’s prepared to kind of field anything coming his way.
And once the Christine Blasey Ford allegations came to light, you did get a sense, from what you see in these phone calls, of which there are transcripts, that Brett Kavanaugh was getting increasingly frustrated by being asked about his sexual habits, because this had clearly veered from his record as a judge and in government working under George Bush to questions about his sexual habits and history.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are the moots taped?
ROBIN POGREBIN: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Can the notes on this be subpoenaed?
ROBIN POGREBIN: That, I’m not sure about, but we did talk to people who were aware of the moots and what took place. And then we know people who were sort of privy to those events. And then there are some transcripts of his phone calls with people on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who were kind of trying to basically vet him and make sure all this didn’t blow up in their faces.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, this could go to the issue of if there was an impeachment inquiry around Justice Kavanaugh, information that he was revealing in these moots. What did the people tell you about what he said in these so-called practice sessions?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I mean, I think we got the idea that he was getting increasingly frustrated. And there was a sense that this was kind of an undignified proceeding now, which sort of insulted his intelligence and his record. But I do think that this was not about him revealing things. I think that Justice Kavanaugh is an incredibly experienced jurist, and he’s an experienced lawyer, and he knows how to kind of testify in a way that maybe isn’t technically lying, but also isn’t maybe fully telling the truth. So, however he did this, he was obviously very good at it, because he was ultimately confirmed.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, do you have any sense that this attack on your book is coordinated?
ROBIN POGREBIN: I mean, I think what’s hard is that the right seems to be on Twitter more than the left. I mean, and it’s kind of relentless, so that kind of going after us seems to be a full-time job for a few people right now. And what’s hard is to kind of feel as if they actually aren’t really considering the substance of the book. And we’re keeping our focus on the book.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Robin Pogrebin, New York Times reporter, co-author of the new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation. She wrote it with Kate Kelly. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.