Now that Christine Ford’s testimony is over, early indications are that Senate Republicans will uniformly avoid directly attacking her credibility. It’s a wise move—she was effective and credible, and even having her on the stand went so poorly for them that Fox News called it a disaster and President Trump was reportedly enraged.
After her testimony concluded, Lindsey Graham set the tone for what we’re likely to hear from most Senate Republicans:
He followed that up with this:
“Here’s what you do when you have an emotional accusation and an emotional denial, use the rule of law, the presumption of innocence attaches to the person accused…Having said, what do I think about Ms. Ford? A very competent, very accomplished lady. Something happened, I don’t know what, but you’er asking me to say it was Brett Kavanaugh, I don’t know when it happened, and where it happened. He said it didn’t happen. This is all delay.”
So there you have it in miniature. First and foremost, insist that the evidence is ironclad. Second, compliment Christine Ford to make it clear you’re not victim-blaming or questioning her integrity, because to do otherwise would instigate an avalanche of negative public opinion.
In fact, what Graham is saying is not unfair—there is a presumption of innocence in the U.S. legal system, and while this was not a trial, and while you could reasonably argue that the standards for a potential Supreme Court justice should be quite a bit higher than the standards for avoiding a sexual assault conviction, it’s true that there’s no hard proof. Even with Ford’s very credible testimony, you can’t necessarily blame Graham for wanting something more concrete.
You know how you get harder proof, or a potential exoneration? An FBI investigation.
And that’s the rub: Every time a Republican Senator says that the issue is too muddy, but stops short of calling Christine Ford a liar, they are essentially making the argument for the FBI to figure out, to the best of their ability, what exactly happened that summer in Maryland. And yet they are adamantly against an FBI investigation!
If you were naive about political machinations, it would make no sense. They tend to offer two excuses. The primary one is that Democrats—especially Dianne Feinstein—were deceptive with the way they presented the material, or held on to it, or stretched it out to the bitter end. This, of course, doesn’t quite hold up on its face. Ford sent her initial letter anonymously, spoke to the Washington Post, and eventually made a unilateral (and difficult, and brave) decision to go public and eventually testify. With the need to respect her initial requests for anonymity, there was nothing Feinstein or any of the Democrats could have done differently or faster, and the broader underlying notion that they’re in the wrong somehow for bringing up character evidence against a potential Supreme Court justice is outrageous.
Even if the Democrats had acted on a suspicious timeline—again, they did not—it’s strange to even suggest that their conduct should somehow indemnify Kavanaugh against all accusations. No matter how they were brought to the nation’s attention, and no matter when, they deserve to be investigated.
Second, and more recently, they’re trotting out an old Joe Biden quote to argue that the FBI isn’t even effective.
Neither of these rationales stands up to the smell test. Sure, maybe in the worst case scenario the FBI would investigate and get nowhere, and we’d be back at square one. At least the attempt would have been made, and the committee and full Senate could vote knowing they had all the information that was possible to discover. It would also give them time to question people like Mark Judge, whose absence from these hearings despite having allegedly witnessed the assault is frankly outrageous. No matter how you spin it, there’s no legitimate reason to oppose an FBI investigation.
Of course, anyone who has watched the GOP operate and who understands our current political climate knows what’s actually happening here. Republicans know that if they set the FBI loose, it will be impossible to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterms, after which time the Democrats might control the Senate and they’d lose their chance to place another ultra-conservative on the Supreme Court.
They won’t admit that, but it’s the obvious endgame. They’re playing politics with some very serious allegations, and the consequence—placing the alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment on the Supreme Court—doesn’t matter to them. As usual with Republicans, it’s all about power. The country, and truth, and justice, forever come last.