The Best Explanation for Ford's and Kavanaugh's Conflicting Stories

(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

Christine Blasey Ford

As soon as allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh began circulating, Republicans knew they had a problem, even if they were disinclined to believe that one of their own could ever have been guilty of any misdeeds. Already facing the potential of huge midterm losses driven by women candidates and women voters, and worried about the spectacle of 11 white Republican men snarling at a woman telling her story of sexual abuse, they found a fig leaf—a female prosecutor who could interrogate Christine Blasey Ford about the assault she says she suffered at Kavanaugh's hands. But what about the fallout from all of them dismissing Ford's allegations, as they inevitably would?

Ever creative, Republicans have found another fig leaf, a way of claiming that they believe Ford while not actually believing her.

Part of their logic does make some sense. But the place it takes them to is upside down. Not only that, there's a strong piece of evidence supporting Ford's claim, one that unfortunately didn't get discussed at Thursday's dramatic hearing but is finally beginning to get some notice.

So how are Republicans getting away with saying they believe Ford, who offered compelling and persuasive testimony, while simultaneously saying they don't believe her? "I do believe that something very, very, very bad happened to Dr. Ford, and I am very sorry," said Senator John Kennedy on Friday as the Senate Judiciary Committee was preparing to vote on the nomination. "But I do not believe that Judge Brett Kavanaugh was involved. And that's why I will support his nomination." As Orrin Hatch said even before the committee heard from Ford, "I think she is sincere, at least I hope so, but I think she is sincerely wrong." Even Kavanaugh himself said, "I'm not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time."

So she's sincere, she's just wrong. She's not lying intentionally, but she's saying things that aren't true. Ergo, Kavanaugh is exonerated.

I happen to think it's possible if not highly likely that they're right on one count: Ford is sincere in her account of Kavanaugh's attack, and Kavanaugh is sincere in believing he didn't assault her. But ask yourself: Which of these two possibilities sounds more plausible?

  1. Ford either convinced herself that a fictional assault actually took place, or was assaulted by someone she knew at a gathering of just a few teenagers and somehow mistook her assaulter for an entirely different person, then spent decades struggling with the psychological scars of this attack that either never happened or was perpetrated by an entirely different person, OR

  2. Kavanaugh, who we know was a frequent heavy drinker, existing in an environment where girls were regularly ridiculed, dismissed, and preyed upon, committed this act while laughing with a drunk friend and promptly forgot about it, because to him it was no big deal.

In the first case, we have something utterly outlandish that's at odds with everything we know about trauma and memory, and in the second case we have something that makes perfect sense. Given what we've learned about Kavanaugh, a better question might be: If he had assaulted Ford in this way, why would he remember it?

I would also relate Number 2 to the question of the other people whom Ford says were present at the party. Kavanaugh and his defenders have made much of the fact that none of them are able to say they remember the event. But that's not just unsurprising, it would be bizarre if they did. This was a hard-partying culture, and they all probably attended hundreds of parties big and small over the course of their time in high school. Why would they remember one particular gathering if nothing out of the ordinary happened to them there? They wouldn't. However, if you were at a particular party and someone tried to rape you, well then you'd damn sure remember that party.

Similarly, to Kavanaugh—especially in the state of extreme drunkenness Ford describes him as being in—that party and what he did to Ford wouldn't have been a life-defining event. It was nothing. As David Roberts of Vox put it, "Kavanaugh probably forgot it before he got to the bottom of the stairs."

Here's where we get to the question of Brett Kavanaugh's calendar, which he produced, believing that it exonerated him. But one entry does exactly the opposite.

Let's remember that Ford's account—before Kavanaugh produced his calendar—was that the gathering at which she was assaulted included Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, a young man named P.J., and at least one other young man.

Now let's look at the calendar entry for Thursday, July 1, 1982. It reads as follows:

Tobin's House — Workout / Go to Timmy’s for Skis w/ Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi

"Skis" is an apparent reference to "brewskis," i.e., beer. So here we have a gathering Kavanaugh attended to drink, which included him, Judge, and P.J.—the three people Ford named—plus a couple of other people, which almost perfectly fits Ford's description.

There's one other piece of evidence to support the possibility that this was the party at which Ford was assaulted. Ford described how approximately six to eight weeks after the attack, she ran into Mark Judge at a Safeway where he was working, and he acted awkward and embarrassed. "I said hello to him, and his face was white and very uncomfortable saying hello back," she said.

In Judge's book Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, he writes that in the summer of 1982, "I spent a few weeks working as a bag boy at the local supermarket"—exactly the time Ford says she had this encounter with him.

That doesn't prove that the assault took place. But it does lend further credence to the idea that the July 1 party in Kavanaugh's calendar was in fact the party at which Ford was assaulted.

So what are we left with? Apart from some haziness remembering barely relevant details, there is nothing in Ford's account or behavior that gives any reason to suggest she isn't telling the truth. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, not only showed up on Thursday and gave a shockingly belligerent performance—shouting angrily, making partisan accusations more at home on an episode of Hannity than from a prospective Supreme Court justice—he also managed to pile up an extraordinary volume of lies and evasions.

But you can believe that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, and sincerely has no memory of it. Indeed, given what we've learned both about the toxic bro culture of Georgetown Prep at the time and his copious drinking, it's not only possible, it may be the most likely thing. To that drunk 17-year-old, pushing a young woman into a room, clumsily feeling her up and trying to remove her clothes, covering her mouth with his hand when she tried to call for help—it could have been just another Thursday. 

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