The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Another Alleged Witness Denies Seeing or Hearing What Kavanaugh’s Accuser Claimed

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

There is an ugly rumor going around that today is only Wednesday.

BREAKING:

Patrick J. Smyth attended Georgetown Prep — an all-boys school in North Bethesda, Maryland — alongside Kavanaugh. Both men graduated in 1983. Smyth signed a letter this summer, before the allegations against Kavanaugh were made public, testifying that Kavanaugh “is singularly qualified to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” along with dozen other of the school’s alumni.

“I understand that I have been identified by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the person she remembers as ‘PJ’ who supposedly was present at the party she described in her statements to the Washington Post,” Smyth says in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

What No One Wants to Openly Discuss about Dianne Feinstein

Tuesday evening, speaking off the cuff, California senator Dianne Feinstein seemed to cast doubt on Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser: “This is a woman, and I really believe, who’s been profoundly impacted by this. Now, I can’t say that everything is truthful. I don’t know.” (Video here.)

Later in the evening, her office issued a statement to CNN: “Based upon what I know at this stage, she is credible.”

This isn’t the first time in the past year that Feinstein quickly reversed herself after making a public statement that turned heads.

In January, Feinstein released the full transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interview with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that researched President Trump during the 2016 campaign. This was over the objections of Republicans on the panel, including chairman Chuck Grassley.

CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju tweeted:

“Feinstein says she’s sorry to Grassley for not giving him a heads-up about the release of the Fusion GPS transcript. ‘I meant to tell him, and I didn’t have a chance to tell him, and that concerns me,’ she told us. ‘I just got pressured, and I didn’t do it.’”

But less than an hour later, when Raju asked who was pressuring her, she said, “I wasn’t pressured” and simply refused to reconcile her statements. The next day, BuzzFeed reporter Emma Loop had this odd exchange with the senator:

Feinstein: I made no statement to that effect.

Loop: But there are recordings of you saying you felt pressured.

Feinstein: I don’t believe there are. I don’t believe I said that.

Loop: Okay. Reporters have the recordings.

Feinstein: It appears in one place, and I saw it, and I’m just telling you, you asked me the question, and the question is, it’s not correct.

Then, later that day, she appeared to be confused about what her own position was on a government-spending bill to avoid a government shutdown:

On Tuesday, Feinstein’s staff said she planned to vote “no” unless Congress reaches a deal to address the legal status of people brought to the country illegally as children. And Thursday morning, Feinstein’s office released a statement affirming that position.

I said in December that I wouldn’t vote for [the spending bill] without the Dream Act, and I won’t do so now,” she said in the statement.

But hours later, Feinstein told CNN in an interview that she had not made her mind up about whether to vote for the measure, saying: “Shutting down the government is a very serious thing. People die, accidents happen. You don’t know. Necessary functions can cease.” She didn’t seem aware of her office’s earlier statement.

“I don’t know if we did today,” Feinstein said, looking toward an aide when asked about the news release.

“I don’t know how I would vote right now on a CR [continuing resolution], OK?” she added, ending the interview.

A Republican senator once told me that it was easier to work with Feinstein herself than her staff; Feinstein would seem amenable in a meeting and then her staff would insist she hadn’t agreed to the discussed solution.

In May, Senator Feinstein issued a statement declaring that Russian bots were behind the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, despite contrary statements from officials at Twitter and Facebook, saying they had not found “any significant activity connected to Russia.”

Monday, Feinstein seemed to forget why she didn’t share the letter from Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser with her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee:

Ultimately, after rumors of the letter circulated on Capitol Hill, and she was confronted by Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, Ms. Feinstein referred the letter to the F.B.I. Asked why she had waited so long, the senator hesitated.

“I don’t know; I’ll have to look back and see,” Ms. Feinstein told reporters, before ducking into the Senate chamber. When she emerged, she said, “The answer is that she asked that it be confidential.”

Dianne Feinstein is 85 years old. God bless the senator; may we all be as active and alert at her age as she is. But the job of a senator is a challenging one, and it’s not hard to see a pattern of Feinstein saying things and then suddenly reversing herself, forgetting things she said a short while earlier, or seeming to not know what her own office has said on her behalf. Maybe that’s simply a matter of the staff not being on the same page as the lawmaker . . . or maybe she doesn’t remember what she told them to do.

Either way, the issue of the senator’s condition is starting to be discussed more openly. The Washington Post, this morning:

Feinstein has been a magnet for attention on Capitol Hill this week. While her aides have sought to shuttle her efficiently to and from meetings and votes, she has stopped to speak with crowds of reporters patiently, sometimes putting her aides on edge, as Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, has been known to make comments that sometimes stir confusion.

“Make comments that sometimes stir confusion” is an extremely gentle way of alluding to the possibility that Feinstein herself is confused.

Would Some Senators Prefer to Not Hear from Kavanaugh’s Accuser?

No one knows what will happen at Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. It will, in all likelihood, be a circus that made the previous round of confirmation hearings look tame.

But as of this writing, there’s a possibility that Ford will not agree to appear at Monday’s hearing. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley offered Ford the option of testifying in open or closed sessions. Her attorneys wrote back to Grassley that there should be an FBI investigation of the crime before she appears — but there’s no federal crime alleged, and it’s unclear what more the FBI could do, beyond interview Ford and Mark Judge, who denied her allegations. (Kavanaugh passed six previous FBI background checks in his career.)

If Ford does not testify on Monday, it is extremely likely that Kavanaugh will get 51 Republican votes to confirm him to the Supreme Court. Many Senate Republicans are eager to hear from her, but if she refuses to appear and discuss the accusation under oath, they will become much more skeptical of her claim.

Senator Jeff Flake:

“When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice.”

Senator Bob Corker: “If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”

A scenario where Ford refuses to testify may be the one that leaves most senators comfortable with their options. Republican senators will be able to say, “Kavanaugh testified under oath and categorically denied all of the charges; she refused to appear. I believe his denial and will support him.” Democratic senators — even the red-state ones — will say something like, “I cannot, in good conscience, vote to confirm a nominee with these kinds of serious and unresolved accusations hanging over him.”

The three Democratic senators who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch in 2017 may conclude that their reelection prospects might not be all that changed by their vote on this nomination. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is polling pretty well, considering Trump’s margin in his state. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota might conclude she’s a goner either way, so she might as well join the majority of her party in voting “no.” Joe Donnelly of Indiana has the most competitive race of the three, but he might be able to survive a “no” vote.

Then again, Republican senators and Senate challengers have a massive argument to spur GOP get-out-the-vote efforts. Senate Democrats such as Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono are already discussing keeping the Supreme Court seat vacant until after the 2020 election. If Democrats take the Senate, they are likely to reject almost all of President Trump’s judicial nominations — not just for the Supreme Court, but for the entire federal judiciary.

Just What Makes a Career-Ending Scandal?

We have a fascinatingly variable definition of a career-ending scandal in politics. Consider three men, all Democrats: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Congressman and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, and former senator Al Franken.

Blumenthal claimed, “I served in Vietnam” when he did not. In 1970, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, joining a unit in Washington that “conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.” In public remarks, he used terms like “when we returned,” strongly implying he had served in Vietnam during the war. After the revelation, he went on to win his first Senate race, 55 percent to 43 percent and he was reelected in 2016.

Many of the glowing profile pieces written about Beto O’Rourke in the past year made passing reference to a DUI charge in his youth. The details paint a much more serious picture:

Although the arrest has been public knowledge, police reports of the September 1998 incident – when the Democratic Senate candidate had just turned 26 – show that it was a more serious threat to public safety than has previously been reported.

State and local police reports obtained by the Chronicle and Express-News show that O’Rourke was driving drunk at what a witness called “a high rate of speed” in a 75 mph zone on Interstate 10 about a mile from the New Mexico border. He lost control and hit a truck, sending his car careening across the center median into oncoming lanes. The witness, who stopped at the scene, later told police that O’Rourke had tried to drive away from the scene.

O’Rourke blew a 0.136 and a 0.134 on police breathalyzers, above the legal limit of a 0.10 blood- alcohol level at the time. (All 50 states now have .08 as their legal limit now.) Only luck and the will of God prevented O’Rourke from killing someone, and you’re no longer a foolish teenager in your mid-twenties. His DUI charge was dismissed after he completed a court-mandated program. So far, there is little sign that the crime will deter O’Rourke’s ambitions.

A lot of conservatives will argue, “This is because Democrats always get away with it.” As much as that may feel true, it is not quite true.

Eight women detailed different incidents of Al Franken either trying to kiss them, groping them, or grabbing their behinds while taking photos. He eventually resigned.

Franken may be currently wondering whether the sin of a nonconsensual kiss or squeeze compares to O’Rourke’s actions, which easily could have killed someone, or Blumenthal’s, which come uncomfortably close to “stolen valor.” The public’s reactions to scandals and wrongdoing is fickle, arbitrary, unclear, ad hoc, and constantly evolving. Ask Bill Clinton, who’s clearly dumbfounded by the fact that he’s getting grief in 2018 for actions the public forgave in 1998. And in the minds of Democrats, Donald Trump has always gotten away with all kinds of misbehavior.

If we want a better society and better governance, we should begin with honest discussion about what we’re willing to forgive and what we aren’t — free from partisan wrangling.

ADDENDUM: This week feels like it’s been eight days long already.

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