Sexual Assault and Sham Investigations: Inside the Latest Headlines About Brett Kavanaugh

After California professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified last October before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a high school gathering more than three decades earlier, a bitterly divided Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50 to 48. 

Before the vote, in response to intense pressure by protestors, Republicans authorized a brief FBI investigation into the allegations of Ford and another woman, Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh forced his penis in her face when they were students at Yale in the 1980s. Many believed at the time that the FBI investigation was inadequate and that the Senate rushed to vote on the nomination in order to stop further inquiry into Kavanaugh’s past. 

Now, a new book by New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly reveals just how inadequate the FBI investigation was and what the Republicans hoped to bury. Kelly and Pogrebin, who was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, and the daughter of Ms. founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin, conducted a year-long investigation into Kavanaugh, interviewing many of his classmates from Yale.

Those investigations resulted in The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, out now from Portfolio books.

During their search for information on Kavanaugh, Pogrebin and Kelly uncovered a previously unreported story that is very similar to Ramirez’s allegation. According to Yale classmate Max Stier, during a drunken dorm party in his freshman year, Kavanaugh pulled his pants down while friends “pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.” The female student declined to be interviewed for the book and friends say she does not recall the episode.

According to Pogrebin and Kelly, Senator Chris Coons sent a letter to the FBI detailing the Stier’s allegation in October, just days before Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate. Nevertheless, the FBI did not investigate the allegation.

The FBI also failed to follow up on the Ramirez allegations. According to Pogrebin and Kelly, Ramirez gave the FBI the names of 25 people who could confirm her allegation, but the agency did not follow up with a single one of them. In fact, many of these people even reached out to the FBI, but were unable to give their testimony. Pogrebin and Kelly were able to locate at least seven people who had heard about the incident.

There was clearly no serious FBI investigation into the allegations of Dr. Blasey Ford, and no investigation at all into the allegations of Ramirez or Stier. In the wake of these revelations, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker; Representative Ayanna Pressley; former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke; former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have called for the House to open an impeachment investigation into whether Kavanaugh committed perjury during his confirmation hearings.

Protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation took place across the country during hearings last year in which Dr. Blasey Ford told her story. (Becker1999 / Creative Commons)

According to the U.S. Constitution, a Supreme Court Justice can be impeached for high crimes or misdemeanors, which includes perjury. The House of Representatives can impeach by a majority vote, and then the Senate can hold a trial and convict with a two-thirds vote. Only one Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached—Samuel Chase in 1804. He was not convicted.

“As it becomes increasingly clear that initial investigations into Kavanaugh’s history of sexual misconduct were a sham, it is critical that House Democrats open immediate proceedings into these allegations, and the FBI’s botched investigation,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, said in a statement. “We have known from the beginning that Kavanaugh is a serial sexual predator and a liar who perjured himself during his nomination hearings. He has absolutely no place serving on the Supreme Court, nor in any other capacity as a judge.”

The rush to confirm Kavanaugh was part of a strategy between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stack the federal courts with right-wing judges. Trump has already appointed over 150 judges at all levels of courts, including two Supreme Court justices. That’s way more than previous presidents at this point in their presidencies, in part because McConnell refused to confirm Obama’s nominations, so there were many openings when Trump took office. These appointments are further eroding the legitimacy of the courts, and they’re undermining the public’s confidence federal judges at a time when the judiciary’s role as an independent check on the Trump administration’s actions is more critical than ever.

“The Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Senate have yet again dismissed women’s voices, abandoning their due diligence in investigating these credible claims,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. “This is just another example of the GOP’s willingness to stop at nothing to stack the courts and advance its dangerous agenda. Even more so, this careless investigation and rushed confirmation is an insult to our core values of truth and justice.”

About

Carrie N. Baker is Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015.