GOP, Dems battle over secret FBI report on Kavanaugh
By ALAN FRAM and LISA MASCARO
Thursday, October 4
WASHINGTON (AP) — A high-stakes partisan row quickly broke out Thursday over a confidential FBI report about allegations that Brett Kavanaugh sexually abused women three decades ago, with Republicans claiming investigators found “no hint of misconduct” and Democrats accusing the White House of slapping crippling constraints on the probe.
The verbal battling commenced as the conservative jurist’s prospects for winning Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court remained at the mercy of five wavering senators, with an initial, critical vote looming Friday. It followed the FBI’s early-morning release of its investigation, which President Donald Trump reluctantly ordered under pressure from a handful of wavering GOP senators.
“There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a written statement. He said he based his view on a briefing from committee aides and added, “This investigation found no hint of misconduct.”
Top Democrats fired back after getting their own briefing.
The Judiciary panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, said it appeared that the White House had “blocked the FBI from doing its job.” She said that while Democrats had agreed to limit the probe’s scope, “we did not agree that the White House should tie the FBI’s hands.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already started a process that will produce a crucial test vote in his polarized chamber Friday on Kavanaugh’s fate. Should Republicans get the majority of votes they need — and Vice President Mike Pence is available to cast the tie-breaker, if necessary — that would set up a decisive roll call on his confirmation, likely over the weekend.
Feinstein complained Thursday that agents had not interviewed Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford, who has testified that he sexually attacked her in a locked bedroom during a high school gathering in 1982. Feinstein also said attorneys for Deborah Ramirez, who’s claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when both were Yale freshmen, had no indication the FBI had reached out to people she’d offered for corroboration.
Grassley said the FBI could not “locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations,” and he said there is “no contemporaneous evidence.” He provided no specifics.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats’ fears that the “very limited process” laid out for the investigation would restrain the FBI “have been realized.”
He also said, “I disagree with Sen. Grassley’s statement that there was no hint of misconduct.” Neither side provided any detail about what the report said, constrained by years-old arrangements that require the results of FBI background checks to remain confidential.
Earlier, White House spokesman Raj Shah rebuffed Democrats’ complaints, saying, “What critics want is a never-ending fishing expedition into high school drinking.” He said the FBI reached out to 10 people and interviewed nine, including “several individuals at the request of the Senate, and had a series of follow-up interviews … following certain leads.”
While the FBI interviews were to focus on sexual assault allegations, Democrats have also questioned Kavanaugh’s drinking habits during high school and college and dishonest comments they say he has made about his background. Kavanaugh has said stories of his bad behavior while drinking are exaggerated.
Three women have accused him of sexual misconduct in separate incidents in the 1980s. Kavanaugh, 53, now a judge on the powerful District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, has denied the claims.
The White House received the FBI report around 3 a.m. Thursday.
Trump weighed in hours later in a tweet in which he denounced what he called “the harsh and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh. “This great life cannot be ruined by mean” and “despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations!”
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois told reporters Thursday that time slots for reading the FBI file are so full that senators are being told they might have to wait until Friday to read it. “They’re so swamped,” she said.
The report arrived at a Capitol palpably tense over the political stakes of the nomination fight and from aggressive anti-Kavanaugh protesters who have rattled and reportedly harassed senators. Feeding the anxiety was an unusually beefy presence of the U.S. Capitol Police, who were keeping demonstrators and frequently reporters at arm’s length by forming wedges around lawmakers walking through corridors.
Barring leaks, it was unclear how much of the FBI report, if any, would be made public. While senators from both sides have expressed support for revealing at least parts of the findings, FBI background checks on nominees are supposed to remain confidential.
With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 Senate majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still publicly undeclared, the conservative jurist’s prospects of Senate confirmation could hinge largely on the file’s contents.
The three undecided GOP senators rebuked Trump for mocking one accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, by mimicking her responses to questions at last week’s dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters that Trump’s lampooning of Ford at a Tuesday night Mississippi campaign rally was “just plain wrong.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called it “wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable,” and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on NBC’s “Today” show that the remarks were “kind of appalling.”
Those senators, along with Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have yet to declare how they will vote.
Trump drew laughs Tuesday with his rendition of how Ford answered questions at last week’s hearing. “I had one beer — that’s the only thing I remember,” he stated inaccurately.
Underscoring rising tensions, Democrats suggested that previous FBI background checks of Kavanaugh may have unearthed misconduct by the nominee.
Democrats wrote to Grassley challenging a Tuesday tweet by GOP aides saying prior investigations never found “a whiff of ANY issue — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse.” Democrats wrote that the GOP tweet contained information that is “not accurate.”
Committee Republicans tweeted in response that their prior tweet was “completely truthful” and accused Democrats of “false smears.”
Ford, now a California psychology professor, has testified that when the drunken Kavanaugh attacked her, she believed he was trying to rape her.
The FBI interviewed several people, including three who Ford has said attended a 1982 high school gathering in suburban Maryland where she says Kavanaugh’s attack occurred, plus another Kavanaugh friend. The agency has also spoken to a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a Yale party when both were freshmen.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed.
The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair
Controversial young adult novel offers insight into Kavanaugh hearings, sexual assault
October 4, 2018
Associate Professor of English; Program Coordinator, 6-9 and 9-12 licensure programs in English, Meredith College
Kelly Roberts works for Meredith College in Raleigh Durham, NC
The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh should remind educators of the vital need to talk to young people about sexual assault, consent, underage drinking – and how the choices they make as teenagers can affect the rest of their lives.
One of the best ways to do that is through literature. One novel emerges as particularly adept in this regard.
The novel is “Speak.” Listed as one of the top banned or challenged texts, “Speak” centers around a 15-year-old high school freshman named Melinda who becomes withdrawn after being sexually assaulted at a summer party.
When “Speak” appeared in 1999, critics praised author Laurie Halse Anderson for her ability to produce a powerful book that could help young people grapple with tough subject matter, including sexual assault.
Anderson got a different reaction from many young men who read the novel.
“These are guys who liked the book, but they are honestly confused,” Anderson recounted. “They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped.
“The first dozen times I heard this, I was horrified. But I heard it over and over again,” Anderson continued. “I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman.”
Nearly two decades after “Speak” first appeared, there are still some who harbor a dismissive attitude toward accusers and sexual assault. For instance, in an interview about the Kavanaugh hearings, one woman asked “What boy hasn’t?” when it comes to sexual assault.
Such attitudes show why it pays to revisit Anderson’s cautionary tale, one that fosters discussion both hard and completely necessary for 21st-century teens.
Fading and foggy memories of friends
A first unmistakable parallel between Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and the novel is the all-important idea of corroboration – something that is often absent in cases that involve rape and sexual assault at parties.
Leyland Keyser, Ford’s lifelong friend, was reported by Ford to be at the party in Maryland. But Keyser wrote that she doesn’t remember the party, any assault or even Kavanaugh. Ford has a simple explanation: Nothing happened to Leyland, and she was downstairs when the assault took place.
The same lack of awareness proves true in “Speak,” where the main character, Melinda, is lured away from a summer party and assaulted in a field.
Just as Ford describes in her testimony, Melinda’s friends have no idea that Melinda has been assaulted. And just like Ford describes, the fog surrounding it all leaves the main character of the novel alone, struggling in school, and never revealing her trauma until much later.
Freshman year starts for Anderson’s characters, life goes on with the rapist in their midst, and Melinda is left unable to speak.
Her friends don’t know, her parents don’t know, and the fog grows thicker. “Why don’t you just tell someone?” is the logical but hopelessly impossible question here, one that plays out precisely the same way both in the book and in Ford’s testimony.
Caring and clueless parents
A second parallel is the disbelief, for some, that this type of assault could happen to a nice girl with nice parents who would simply know their daughter, know about the tragedy and get help.
President Trump said as much in a Sept. 21 tweet: Loving parents don’t let their daughters get hurt.
Except Ford’s parents did nothing because they knew nothing. As she tells it, Ford decided at 15 that it was bad for a 15-year-old to be at a party with underage drinking. This kind of thinking is portrayed in “Speak”: Melinda tells her parents that she is staying over with a friend. Knowing she doesn’t have permission to be around boys or booze, Melinda sneaks back home after the assault and loses her will to speak – about anything.
Melinda’s parents see her failing grades and her sullenness as the onset of adolescence. Simply put, Melinda doesn’t tell them differently, and her parents do not know about the rape. As thousands of survivors have attested in the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag that followed Trump’s tweet, many caring adults don’t either.
Embedded in the parallel is the reality that, to a developing young adult, confessing about your underage drinking is somehow harder than living with a sexual assault. The trauma goes deep, and educators should use this opportunity to talk to teens about how vital open communication on extremely common teenage problems can be.
The coincidence of doors
Finally, one of the most interesting parallels between Ford’s testimony and “Speak” is the role of doors.
Ford recounts first opening up to her husband about the details of her assault when the couple renovated their home and she insisted on two front doors – an odd request that speaks to her alleged trauma. “Speak” also hinges on a door, a bathroom stall where Melinda finally gets the courage to scrawl a warning with her accuser’s name. In one of the most powerful scenes of the book, Melinda returns to the stall to discover more scrawlings: “Different pens, different handwriting, conversations between some writers. … It’s better than taking out a billboard. I feel like I can fly.”
That powerful scene is a beautiful metaphor for the #MeToo movement that would come decades after “Speak” was published.
Does a man’s social class have anything to do with the likelihood he’ll commit sexual assault?
October 4, 2018
Jamie L. Small
Assistant Professor, University of Dayton
Jamie L. Small received funding from the Law & Social Sciences program of the National Science Foundation.
University Of Dayton provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Defending his reputation against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault, Judge Brett Kavanaugh worked hard, and angrily, to present himself as a respectable man in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kavanaugh told senators that a woman friend – a “self-described liberal and feminist” – had texted him the night before with well-wishes. She wrote, he reported, “Deep breaths. You’re a good man, a good man, a good man.”
I’m a sociologist who studies the intersection of law, crime and gender. In my research, I have found that criminal attorneys tend to think only a certain kind of man commits sexual assault – and it’s not someone who is educated and of the middle or upper class.
These ideas are reflected by the general public as well. Research shows that people believe they can assess a man’s likelihood of having committed sexual assault through unrelated social signals, such as low educational attainment, dysfunctional families, checkered work histories and physical comportment.
But these ideas have no basis in fact.
The likelihood that someone will commit sexual assault has nothing to do with what school they went to or how much money is in their – or their parents’ – bank account. Indeed, sexual assault allegations arising in the wake of the #MeToo movement suggest that many wealthier and higher status men have committed sexual assault with near impunity for many years.
Unfortunately, federal crime and public health statistics on sexual assault do not collect information on the socioeconomic status of perpetrators. So we do not have precise data on the relative proportion of class-privileged men who commit sexual assault.
Behavior vs. social identity
My objective here is not to adjudicate between the respective testimonies of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, and it is important to note that Kavanaugh has not been criminally charged, let alone found guilty of any sexual assault allegations.
Rather, I want to shine a light on how cultural ideas about class and status shape our informal determinations of which men have the propensity to commit sexual assault in the first place. Too often, men are labeled as sex offenders based on their social identity, rather than their actual behaviors.
Although people of all genders experience sexual victimization, empirical data show that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual assault. Scholarly theories about why men commit sexual assault are varied, but they include psychological dysfunction, hatred toward women, homophobia and social conditions that encourage sexualized domination.
It is also important to note that historically, sex offender laws cast a wide net to include a variety of behaviors considered deviant in the past, including public urination, consensual gay sex and other acts that would be considered largely ordinary today.
In my sociological research, I conducted interviews with 75 prosecutors and defense attorneys who worked on sex crime cases. My sample was 80 percent men. Published results focus on a sub-sample of 30 respondents, but the findings were consistent across the entire group.
Virtually all my respondents took sex crime cases seriously and demonstrated deep concern for victims. But they also tended to think that only certain kinds of men were likely to commit sexual assault. Perhaps not surprisingly, they defined potential rapists in opposition to themselves.
Specifically, the trial attorneys I interviewed imagined sex offenders as lower class men.
Stereotypes about lower class cultures, and lower class men in particular, became proxies for assessing the credibility of allegations of sexual aggression. They used words like, “mopes,” “creeps,” “hillbillies,” “bums” and “dogs” to characterize men who commit sexual assault.
Of course, these research findings present a chicken-and-egg scenario: Are lower class men actually more likely to commit sexual assault? Or are they simply the ones who tend to be held criminally accountable for the same behaviors in which men of various social groups engage?
In other words, might privileged men who are sexually violent have the resources to escape detection altogether?
In good company
Ford’s allegations have not been substantiated by a thorough investigation, but they have affected Kavanaugh’s reputation. In trying to shore up his tarnished respectability, Kavanaugh aligned himself with the other successful men in the Capitol building by listing his many accomplishments.
“Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off,” said Kavanaugh at one point in the hearing.
This defensive work was repeated as well by some Republican senators. Statements about Kavanaugh being a “good man” and a “good judge” and having a “good name” are peppered throughout the hearing transcript.
In turn, Kavanaugh was also subtly distancing himself from unspecified men who would engage in such “horrific” behavior, with statements such as “sexual assault is horrific.” He was implying that only bad men commit sexual assault, not the good ones.
Sen. Lindsey Graham furthered this distinction. He said to Kavanaugh, “You’re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you’re a junior and senior in high school. And all of a sudden, you got over it. It’s been my understanding that if you drug women and rape them for two years in high school, you probably don’t stop.”
Graham’s comparison fits nicely with society’s dominant ideas that sex offenders are easily differentiated from seemingly respectable men.
Debunking an image
While Kavanaugh testified, I was lecturing about sex offender laws and policies, trying to help my undergraduate students think through how they might conceptualize perpetrators of sexual assault.
I asked my class to brainstorm stereotypes they had about sex offenders.
They responded that sex offenders are “strange,” “creepy” and probably living in dank basements. These powerful stereotypes certainly resonate with many legal and media portrayals of sex offenders.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his wife Ashley Kavanaugh leaving at the conclusion of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., Sept. 27, 2018. Reuters/Win McNamee/Pool
Criminologist Mona Lynch found that federal legislative debates about sex offender policies in the late 1990s used emotionally charged language, such as “scourge,” “sick” and “twisted,” which emphasized the symbolic disgust and pollution surrounding sex offenders. This was certainly a very different tenor and vocabulary than what we saw in the Kavanaugh hearings.
When I pressed my students to articulate the precise reasons why Kavanaugh did not fit the sex offender mold, they noted that he had a family; he was educated; and he seemed nice.
I understood what they meant. Indeed, Kavanaugh is not a convicted sex offender. And he does not fit our dominant cultural stereotypes about men who commit sexual assault.
But the proxies that my students used to assess the credibility of Kavanaugh’s testimony actually tell us nothing about his, or anyone else’s, propensity to commit acts of sexual violence – either in the past, present or future.
Time to refocus
Much of the scholarship on sexual violence focuses on victims. So there remain many unanswered questions on how to best predict which men are actually most likely to commit sexual assault.
Moreover, we know that the perpetration of sexual assault is not simply an effect of psychological dysfunction. Social conditions – like party cultures on college campuses – facilitate sexual assault.
When hearings like Kavanaugh’s fixate on moralistic distinctions between good men and bad men, this can lead to analytical quagmires that will not provide answers to our pressing questions.
We cannot assess the facts at hand because we become distracted by the accused man’s family life, educational record and professional success.
Yet none of these class distinctions or resume items tell us anything about what happened on that summer night in 1982.