Last week, the debate over Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination took an unexpected turn. While much of the discussion has focused on the conservative jurist's ideology, apparent falsehoods under oath, and questionable finances, the newest hurdle related to his personal behavior.
At issue was a letter Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) referred to the FBI from an unnamed woman, who pointed to an alleged incident from Kavanaugh's high-school years. The judge "categorically and unequivocally" denied the allegations.
That said, the nature of the claims took a more serious turn yesterday when the accuser went on the record with the Washington Post. We now know that Christine Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, wrote the letter about the alleged sexual assault.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend -- both "stumbling drunk," Ford alleges -- corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.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, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."
The Post's article, which I'd strongly recommend taking the time to read in its entirety, went on to note how Ford was able to escape the alleged incident, which she later described to a therapist during couples therapy with her husband in 2012. Her husband recalled his wife using Kavanaugh's name when describing her alleged attacker.
These details from six years ago stand out for a reason: Ford didn't make these claims in response to Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.
The article added, "Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate."
Last week, when the controversy first reached the public, Kavanaugh's backers had a fairly specific defense: the claims were anonymous, vague, and unsubstantiated, and should therefore be discounted. As things stand, this argument is no longer valid.
And what of the current defense? The White House re-issued Kavanaugh's "categorical and unequivocal" denial to the Washington Post, which is no small detail. There were some suggestions over the weekend that it's a mistake to condemn the judge for actions he allegedly took when he was a drunk teenager. The incident, if it happened at all, was decades ago, the argument goes, and it's not fair to define a 53-year-old Supreme Court nominee by what he's accused of having done in high school.
The problem with this argument is that Kavanaugh isn't the one making it. On the contrary, the judge's official line is that the incident in question simply never happened and that his accuser is lying.
And that pushes us away from a debate about holding someone responsible for alleged actions from his past and into a debate about holding someone responsible for their current actions. If Kavanaugh is lying now about an alleged attack on a teen-aged girl, there's simply no credible way this dishonesty can be dismissed by senators as irrelevant.
Which means those senators have an important challenge ahead of them.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently scheduled to vote on whether to give Kavanaugh a lifetime position on the nation's highest court in about 72 hours. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- a member of the committee on which Republicans have an 11-to-10 majority -- has already said he wants to know more about Ford's allegations before the process moves forward.
A handful of other Republican senators, including Tennessee's Bob Corker and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, have also suggested a possible delay, though they're not on the Judiciary Committee. (South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who is on the panel, said in a statement the committee may want to hear from Kavanaugh's accuser "immediately," so that the process "can continue as scheduled.")
The road ahead should come into focus as today unfolds. This morning, Christine Ford's attorney told NBC's "Today" show that the professor is willing to testify publicly about the alleged attack. Whether Senate Republicans will allow that to happen, and when, is unclear.