Friday, September 28, 2018

What's The Supreme Hurry? One Observer's Look At An Incredible Senate Hearing

Christine Blasey Ford's testimony was entirely credible, and Brett Kavanaugh's defense of his character and actions was passionate. 

The only thing that makes sense now is to do what the American Bar Association advises:  Delay a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court until Ford's claims of Kavanaugh's sexual assault can be thoroughly examined by the FBI.

It's important to note that the ABA has strongly supported Kavanaugh, so this is not some kind of partisan stalling mechanism. It's the right thing to do - period.


UPDATE: Led by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a handful of Republicans have called for a one-week delay on a full-Senate vote so there can be an FBI investigation into these allegations. 

Even Donald Trump is calling Ford a "credible witness" now.

Maybe it's just for show -- I think we'll be able to tell if that's the case -- but it's definitely progress.

Mostly, it's good to know that Flake and a few other senators read The Baldest Truth!


OK, now that I got my main point out of the way ...

From 10 a.m. until nearly 7 p.m. Thursday, I sat in front of my computer monitor watching this most unique Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about a sexual assault that allegedly took place 36 years ago, when both people were in high school. 

It was the first time I had watched anything like this from beginning to end, only taking breaks when the hearing itself took breaks. It was that riveting. 

I decided that I didn't want to be bombarded by all kinds of banners and bells and commentary, so I watched the stream on the USA Today website. Their video included almost no dramatic graphics or silliness, as I figured streams from CNN, Fox News or other TV outlets might. 

I also did not listen to any commentary during the breaks. I had a dog to take care of, a mouth to feed (my own) and some stuff I had to get done that had nothing to do with the hearing.

Almost immediately after it ended, I left for a poker game at a friend's house, so I did not sit around watching hours of analysis. The hearing was intense enough, and I'm fully capable of coming to my own conclusions; I did not need to listen to what Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity or Wolf Blitzer or Newt Gingrich thought about it.

I am proud to be a registered "Unaffiliated" (what N.C. calls an Independent), and I have done my best to keep an open mind about all of this. 

Here are 20 of my observations and thoughts, roughly in order of how they happened during the hearing:

1. Ford's demeanor was outstanding and her testimony was believable. 

She was obviously nervous and a bit beleaguered, but she willingly answered every question and did not seem to dodge any query - including those from the female lawyer that the 11 white male Republicans on the committee hired to do all of their questioning. 

She repeatedly stated that all she wanted to do was be helpful.

She certainly did not come across as a liar, actress or pretender. The two adjectives that best fit her were "credible" and "courageous."

2. The fact that she brought her allegations to the attention of her local congressperson several days before Donald Trump chose Kavanaugh as his nominee definitely gave her more credibility as both an accuser and a witness.

It showed she wasn't trying to take part in a partisan attack against Trump's choice just because he was Trump's choice. Had the president selected any of the other conservatives on his list, we never would have heard of Ford.

3. It is completely believable that a victim of the kind of attack Ford described from 36 years ago would not remember small, relatively unimportant details pertaining to the hours before and after the incident while remembering even the tiniest details of the act itself. 

For those who dismiss her account simply because it was so long ago - a tactic our cloddish boor of a president used - I ask this question: 

Were the thousands of Catholic boys who were sexually abused by priests - but who didn't give their accounts until decades later out of fear or shame - also liars?

I don't know how anybody could have watched Ford's testimony and come away thinking, "Wow, what a liar!" Indeed, her sincerity and courage shined through so forcefully that even several of the crusty old Republicans on the committee praised her.

4. It's hard to blame Republicans for choosing a female to question Ford. They were almost in a no-win situation, as any aggressive questioning by the 11 white men would have been viewed (probably correctly) as bullying an alleged victim of sexual assault.

However, they can't have been pleased by the work turned in by Arizona sexual crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who if anything helped turn Ford into an even more sympathetic figure. 

Mitchell failed to poke a single hole in Ford's testimony. And near the end, she made excuses for her poor performance by saying how difficult it was to question a witness in 5-minute segments.

I'm not saying this was Mitchell's fault, by the way. She is a prosecutor, so she spends her days trying to get guilty verdicts against those who commit sex crimes. She simply wasn't the right choice for this assignment, although perhaps, given the circumstances, there was no right choice.

Regardless, the Republican senators themselves took over the questioning of Kavanaugh.

5. Ford's recounting of the assault - especially her description of Kavanaugh laughing with a buddy who also was in the room, Mark Judge, both during and after the incident - was both totally believable and intensely compelling. 

As she described the alleged assault, I could almost see it in my mind. It was impossible not to feel sorry for her.

6. Some of Kavanaugh's defenders - including one of his friends - are doing him no favor by ridiculously pitching a "mistaken identity" defense. 

Their claim: OK, maybe Ford was sexually assaulted, but it was by somebody who only looked like Kavanaugh.

How despicable and desperate does that sound?

Asked by Senator Dick Durbin, "With what degree of certainty do you think Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?" Ford leaned into the microphone and strongly stated: 

"100 percent."

She was far more believable than the dopes pushing the "mistaken identity" silliness.

7. Of the details Ford couldn't recall clearly, the only one that surprised me was that she couldn't remember how she got to the party on the night of the alleged assault. (I do understand her not being able to remember how she got home, though.)

Also, while one of her good friends who was at the party has said she believes Ford, the friend also has said she couldn't remember the gathering having taken place at all. Kavanaugh repeatedly brought that up, and I would have, too.

And of course, there were no corroborating witnesses for Ford's account. That's why it's so hard to prove sexual assault. It's also why so many victims don't report the crimes or seek justice. 

8. While Ford's opening statement was short, and her nervousness was obvious, Kavanaugh began by launching a long, passionate, often angry (and a few times tearful) defense of himself. 

Although his voice rose numerous times, and his lip quivered when he got weepy, he mostly sounded like a polished defense attorney, delivering a courtroom statement that sought to refute Ford's claims point-by-point.

When he let himself be vulnerable, I certainly could empathize with the anguish and frustration that any man might have felt after being accused of a heinous act he knew in his heart he didn't commit.

A man I'm very close to was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior a few years back. It devastated him. Even after he was fully exonerated by an investigation, he has never forgotten the hurt of what he calls one of the worst times of his life.

9. That Kavanaugh almost immediately attacked Democrats and praised Trump no doubt helped him with the Republican base, but it irreparably damaged any semblance of the independence he had spent weeks claiming he had. 

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

It was a blistering, bitter, extremely partisan diatribe.

I wasn't at all surprised that a few Republican senators (especially an irate Lindsey Graham; more on him later) took that tone, but I didn't expect it from a prospective Supreme Court justice fighting a sexual assault allegation.

Given his history as an attack dog for Republicans, most Independents and Democrats already were leery of Kavanaugh's ability to be objective in any rulings he might have if confirmed for the Supreme Court. 

His opening statement left little doubt that they are correct to be leery. He sounded like a Republican politician. Even worse, he sounded like Trump or one of his conspiracy-theory-spouting sycophants.

It was not a good look for a supposedly independent jurist trying to get confirmed to the most important court in the land.

10. Saying you don't remember a party taking place is not the same as the party not taking place.

Kavanaugh tried to use the former as the equivalent of the latter dozens of times ... and he had success doing so. The committee members mostly let him get away with it, so I don't blame him for going back to it repeatedly.

11. Kavanaugh apparently lied about the meaning of a word he used in his yearbook profile: "boofing." 

He claimed it had something to do with "flatulence." It actually is a sexual act. "Devil's Triangle" - another yearbook reference - also has to do with sex, so Kavanaugh was misleading about that as well.

Additionally, there were yearbook statements by Kavanaugh and several of his friends that they were "alumni" of a girl from another school. He tried to say Thursday that it was a term of endearment, but it almost surely meant that the boys were claiming to have had sex with her. That's certainly how the girl - now a woman - understood it in recent interviews.

I don't want to make too much of the juvenile yearbook stuff of teenage boys ... but why lie about it under oath?

12. If you didn't already know it before Thursday, you know it now:


He said words to that effect ... oh ... about 300 times. 

Although a few Democratic senators, most notably Amy Klobuchar, pressed him on the subject, even citing statements from Kavanaugh's college friends that he was often drunk off his arse, I didn't think the senators were forceful enough in general. They let him either change the subject or simply get away with dismissing it with some form of, "I like beer."

Perhaps the single most unbelievable part of Kavanaugh's testimony was that he was absolutely certain that he had never, ever, ever blacked out from drinking. 

He testified that he liked beer a ton, that he drank regularly and sometimes to excess, that he started drinking when he was young, and that he often drank so much he had to puke. And he admitted that sometimes he fell asleep after drinking. 

But we're supposed to believe that he never blacked out one single time during all of these drinking episodes?

Of course, if he did admit it could have happened, it would have opened the door to the possibility of him committing a sexual assault and not remembering it.  

Klobuchar was one senator who at least took a shot at the subject, gently asking Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out. Kavanaugh took a condescending tone, shooting back: "I don't know, have you?"

A short recess followed Klobuchar's questioning, and upon returning to the proceedings, Kavanaugh apologized. So either Kavanaugh knew he sounded like an overly defensive jerk, or somebody told him he did and strongly recommended that he apologize.

13. Hey, I like beer, too. I was too much of a goody-two-shoes in high school to do much drinking then, but I more than made up for it when I was in college. And I enjoy a craft beer (or 2) now.

However, I'm not a Supreme Court nominee, and I don't need to be (as the old saying goes) "as sober as a judge." 

Does this guy have a drinking problem? It's a legitimate question.

14. Kavanaugh suggested that he couldn't possibly have had a black-out-type drinking problem or that he didn't party on weeknights because he was a serious student, both in high school and college.

Well, one of my good friends at Marquette had roughly this routine:

9 a.m., wake up ... 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., class ... 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., study ... 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., dinner ... 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., study ... 9 pm. to 2 a.m., drink and smoke dope to excess ... 2 a.m., pass out. 

Day after day, week after week, that's what my friend did with few exceptions. He also was a straight-A student, and he has been a very successful businessman for years.

I couldn't do it, but some people can. My friend could. According to many of his Yale classmates, Kavanaugh could, too.

15. Given that Ford brought her accusation both to her congressperson and to the Washington Post on her own, I'm surprised Democrats on the panel mostly let Kavanaugh get away with suggesting that Dems had put her up to the whole thing as part of some conspiracy.

I would have asked, "If you're so sure that Dr. Ford was part of a partisan hit job to crush the president's nominee, why did she contact her congressperson with this BEFORE you were the nominee? Why wouldn't she have waited until you were the nominee? Why didn't she (or other Democratic operatives) try the exact same tactics with Neil Gorsuch, the very conservative, Trump-appointed judge who was confirmed for the Supreme Court last year?"

16. Kavanaugh made a big deal out of a calendar he started keeping when he was a teenager that served as both a planner and a diary.

It was an effective method to show his busy schedule, and the fact that it included plans for some of the parties he went to gave it a feeling of authenticity. 

He used it to help show that he wasn't around much in the summer of 1982, when the assault allegedly took place, and he tried to claim that there were no weekends in the middle of that summer where he took part in parties.

However, as reporters for several Web sites have since pointed out, on July 1, 1982, leading into Fourth of July weekend, Kavanaugh's calendar said he went "to Timmy's for skis w/Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi."

"Skis" were "brewskis." Judge was Mark Judge, the friend of Kavanaugh's whom Ford said was in the room when the assault took place. PJ was another Kavanaugh friend Ford also said was at the gathering. Ford said all of that before any of us knew that Kavanaugh's calendar existed.

So was Kavanaugh lying?

None of the senators, either Republicans or Democrats, asked Kavanaugh about this discrepancy in his testimony. Maybe no one noticed it, which also doesn't speak well of their ability to ask important questions.

17. A few Democrats on the panel, most notably Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Patrick Leahy and Kamala Harris, did a decent job pressing Kavanaugh and trying to get him to stick to facts.

All too often, though, the senators let him get away with changing the subject or simply not answering questions.

And while I get the reason they want the FBI to investigate Ford's accusation - I do too, as I already have stated - they hammered at Kavanaugh far too much about it. 

He's not the one who can call for an investigation ... and even if he asked Trump to call for one - as a couple of senators implored him to do - Trump wouldn't do it.

18. The Democratic senator who came out looking the worst was Diane Feinstein, who had been told by Ford about the alleged assault more than a month ago and who had pledged not to reveal Ford's identity.

Not only did Ford's name get out - turning her life upside down, leading to death threats, upsetting her kids - but Feinstein sat on the information until the 11th hour before springing it on her fellow senators.

It gave the appearance of a partisan hack job by Feinstein and the Democrats. That's exactly what it was, and the shame of it is that Ford was made to look guilty by association.

Kavanaugh repeatedly said that the Democrats could have had their FBI investigation a month ago if Feinstein had gone to the FBI with the allegations. And I agree.

The Democrats could come to regret their tactics if and when they get back in power and they try to get their president's next Supreme Court pick confirmed.

19. Lindsey Graham is sometimes accused of being a "RINO" because he often has been willing to work across the aisle. That's a good thing in my estimation, but it's seen as a black mark to far-right extremists.

Well, he certainly solidified his far-right cred with his blistering takedown of Democrats when he took the microphone.

Calling it "the most despicable thing I have seen in my time with politics," he said Democrats wanted "to destroy this guy's life, hold his seat open, and hope you win (the presidency) in 2020. Boy, you guys want power. God, I hope you never get it."

He also went out of his way to point out that he voted for Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - President Obama's two liberal Supreme Court nominees.

(Of course, he didn't mention that he was party to the highly respected Merrick Garland being denied even a Senate hearing after Obama nominated Garland with almost a year left in his presidency.)

Graham ran against Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and was critical of Trump early on after the election, but he has become one of the president's allies. And his performance Thursday definitely will help his standing with the Republican base.

Later on, he claimed that he believed Ford ... but that the attacker wasn't Kavanaugh. Again, the "mistaken identity" defense. Weak.

I'm pretty sure that if Kavanaugh punched Graham in the face, Graham would not think somebody else did it.

20. Kavanaugh is obviously an intelligent man and has been involved in jurisprudence for decades. 

That didn't stop him from repeatedly trying to claim that a short statement written by an attorney on Mark Judge's behalf was the equivalent of an independent FBI investigation and/or testimony under oath before the Senate.

Kavanaugh even tried to blame alcohol addiction for any poor behavior by his friend.

I want to hear from this guy, Mark Judge. He supposedly was in the room when a nominee for the highest court in the land committed sexual assault. He should be interviewed by the FBI, and he should be subpoenaed by Congress and compelled to testify.

Yes, the FBI already has looked thoroughly into Kavanaugh's background. But its officers have not had a chance to do so since these very credible allegations have come to light.


Bottom line:

If I were a Republican senator who wasn't a total partisan hack, and if I cared at all about both the truth and the sanctity of the Supreme Court, I would tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the vote until after a full FBI investigation.

That's apparently exactly what happened, thanks to Flake and a few other Republicans who were on the fence after Thursday's testimony.

I'm impressed that Trump agreed to it - every once in a very great while, he does give us a pleasant surprise.

Here's hoping that this isn't just a head fake to placate a few Republicans, that it's a legitimate investigation. There were enough inconsistencies (and maybe even misleading statements) from Kavanaugh to warrant an extra look.

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