Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee love to talk about Brett Kavanaugh. Just a few weeks back, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley cited a Biden nominee’s outrage over Kavanaugh to justify his disapproval of her nomination. A few months before that, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham explained his decision to back Amy Coney Barrett’s hasty confirmation (nominated after an election had already started) as retribution for the way Democrats treated Kavanaugh. And you can bet that Republicans will put Kavanaugh front and center should Biden ever get to nominate a Supreme Court justice.
You would think Republicans would shy away from reminding Americans that their party locked arms and pushed an alleged attempted rapist onto the Supreme Court. Instead, they’re proud to defend a man who wears his contempt for others on his face. Kavanaugh is the closest thing they have to a martyr: He’s a white man who was almost held accountable for his actions.
In contrast, the Democrats seem determined to memory-hole the Kavanaugh saga. In 2018, Nancy Pelosi promised there would be an investigation of Kavanaugh should Democrats take back the House in 2018. But while Democrats did take back that body, no investigation has happened, no hearings have taken place, and no impeachment charges have been submitted. Democrats have treated Kavanaugh as an immutable fact of life. Until now, that is.
Late last week, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic senator from Rhode Island and, apparently, one of the only senators willing to remember what Republicans did while they were in power, wrote a letter calling on newly confirmed Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into the FBI’s handling of the attempted-rape allegations against Kavanaugh. Specifically, he asked Garland to determine whether the FBI conducted a “fake investigation rather than a sincere, thorough and professional one.” As evidence for the failures of the investigation, Whitehouse points out holes in the FBI’s process that are well known to those of us who have refused to let Kavanaugh get away with it: people and law firms who tried in vain to bring information about Kavanaugh to the bureau but couldn’t find an agent willing to listen; a “tips line” that the FBI never seemed to respond to or follow up on; and repeated “stonewalling” by FBI Director Chris Wray in front of congressional oversight committees about the investigation. Also, the agency failed to follow up on other allegations against Kavanaugh that, in Whitehouse’s words, “required their own investigation.”
Whitehouse called on Garland directly not because of Garland’s own contentious history with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but because Garland is now Wray’s boss. Yes, the Department of Justice was run by Jeff Sessions (and toilet bowl salesman Matthew Whittaker) during the critical time that Kavanaugh should have been investigated. But the deeper problem was that the investigation was run by Wray who—as I pointed out back during his confirmation hearing—was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale Law School and, being a fellow conservative, ran in the same extracurricular circles, including membership in the Federalist Society. There is simply no reason to think that Wray conducted a thorough investigation of his old classmate—especially since Wray himself admitted, in open testimony, that Donald Trump’s White House limited the investigation into Kavanaugh.
And that’s really just the beginning of the problems. While Republicans want people to believe that the only charges against Kavanaugh stem from his high school years, the truth is that his ethics and character have been impugned as an adult as well. You don’t have to believe the attempted rape allegations against him to believe that he is wholly unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh likely perjured himself during multiple confirmation hearings, and his personal financial history is “murky,” to say the least. When Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court, he was the subject of 83 ethics complaints, all of which were ultimately thrown out solely because the judicial system is not allowed to discipline a sitting member of the Supreme Court.
Since then, nobody, to my knowledge, has ever followed up on the perjury allegations. Nor have they followed the money trail, which includes a string of disappearing debts, which Kavanaugh claims were racked up buying baseball tickets. I’d call the baseball ticket defense the most spurious alibi I’ve ever heard from a Supreme Court justice. (I have my own theory on Kavanaugh’s debts, and Whitehouse has been trying to question Kavanaugh about this from the very beginning.) But Kavanaugh is also the guy who argued that he couldn’t have tried to rape somebody one night in high school because “try to rape a girl today” was never previewed on his childhood calendar.
An investigation of the FBI’s investigation is desperately needed. As Whitehouse’s letter makes clear, this is not just about Kavanaugh’s fitness to sit on the Supreme Court; this is about the reliability of the FBI, and the agency’s willingness to vet political appointees for crimes if there is pressure from the top to look the other way.
Politically, Republicans treat the fact that Kavanaugh hasn’t been prosecuted for any of the charges against him as meaning he was “exonerated” of those charges, which is not how this works. They’ve turned Kavanaugh into a victim, which is easier to do because no one has adequately investigated his alleged crimes. Meanwhile, outside the ranks of Republicans, Kavanaugh is: an alleged gambler, an alleged perjurer, and an alleged attempted rapist. He is all of those things because he and his political party and his law school friends have all refused to allow a real investigation into the various allegations against him. An independent investigation, perhaps one not conducted by his law school buddy, could be a chance to clear his name.
But instead of welcoming that opportunity, I’ll wager all of my baseball tickets that Kavanaugh and the Republicans will do what privileged white boys always do when faced with questions about their conduct: scream, cry, and threaten revenge.
Maybe now that Democrats have seen that Republicans are going to throw Kavanaugh-inspired temper tantrums at every confirmation hearing ’til the end of time, they’ll do what’s right and push for the investigation that was never done. They should at least try. Sneering and howling do not count as a credible defense against allegations of attempted rape. Nor does knowing the FBI director—no matter what Republicans would have us believe.