Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has backed out of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is demanding a full FBI investigation into the incident first. Clearly, she is worried that without some independent corroboration of her account, Senate Republicans would do to her what they did to Anita Hill when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment 27 years ago: Trivialize her plight and destroy her to protect him.
No one can blame her for thinking this. But the fact of the matter is that the investigation would also be in Kavanaugh's interest.
Consider what Ford says Kavanaugh did to her when she was 15 and he was a 17-year-old football player: They were at a party, she says, when he corralled her to a bedroom in a drunken stupor. He allegedly slammed her on the bed, covered her mouth, and tried to pull her clothes off. Meanwhile, his friend and accomplice, Mark Judge, allegedly turned up the stereo to drown out the noise. She made her escape, she says, after Judge, who was also drunk, jumped on them, toppling all three.
Why Ford does not wish to recount this in a televised hearing is easy to understand, given how she has been treated. Donald Trump Jr. has mocked her on Instagram, right-wing media has circulated erroneous, mean-spirited reports about her, and strangers have sent her death threats. She has had to hire private security and move herself and her two daughters to another house.
No one deserves to be treated this way. But that does not mean that her allegations don't need corroboration. Indeed, the trouble with her account so far is that she has provided enough details to be credible but not enough to be convincing. She has not been able to offer a precise time or place of the incident or how she got to the party and how she got back home after the incident. She says there were two other people at the party but it's not clear if she has offered their names. This is not enough to derail Kavanaugh's candidacy and potentially destroy his career and life.
It is completely understandable that she doesn't remember all those details given the passage of time. Victims can often recall vivid details about an assault but forget other things — especially because they are riven with guilt, shame, and embarrassment, and don't want to talk about it with anyone, as was apparently the case with Ford.
But Kavanaugh insists that he was not even at the party that Ford is talking about. An FBI investigation might well help to pin down some of these details and get past "he said, she said." This would be as much in Kavanaugh's interest as hers, which is why it is surprising that Republicans are resisting her request for an FBI inquiry. "If she does not come on Monday, we are going to move on and vote on Wednesday," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has declared.
It is unclear if he'll be able to make good on his threat given that his Republican colleagues like Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who aren't hardline partisans, or even Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who put a hold on Kavanaugh's nomination, might not play along. But if they did and Kavanaugh were confirmed, he'd forever have a shadow hanging over his head.
No doubt Graham is worried that the FBI inquiry is a Democratic ploy to run the confirmation clock past the November midterm elections in the hope that Republicans will lose the Senate. Should that happen, however, Republicans could take the confirmation vote during the lame duck session. Indeed, if the FBI corroborates Kavanaugh's account that he wasn't at the party or offers other exculpatory evidence, there would be no reason for any Republican to vote against him — except in the unlikely event they're worried about coming across as hypocritical given what they did to Merrick Garland — and he would be a shoo-in.
On the other hand, if Republicans force Ford to testify next week without any independent fact-finding, there is a very real chance that they will turn the hearings into an inquisition just like they did when Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas, her boss at Equal Employment Official Commission, of sexual harassment.
At that time, Republicans were so convinced that Hill was part of a vast left-wing conspiracy — just as some of them are that Ford is too — that they basically put her on trial. They demanded to know why Hill hadn't reported Thomas' alleged abuse in real time, evidently unaware that the very power differential that causes men to prey on vulnerable women also prevents the women from coming forward. They grilled her on every minor inconsistency, questioned every trivial lapse of memory, and impugned her motives. They wanted to know why Hill continued to communicate with Thomas despite the alleged abuse — behavior that is not uncommon among victims. Sen. Alan Simpson, one of her inquisitors, later admitted that he behaved like a "monster."
But Hill's mistreatment kicked off an era of activism and awareness — culminating in the #MeToo movement — so that Republicans will deploy such tactics at their peril now. President Trump's approval rating with women had already been tanking, with 55 percent of white women expressing disapproval and three-fourths of college-educated white women saying he embarrasses them. And Republicans will only dig their grave with women further in the midterms if it seems like they've become infected with Trumpian nastiness.
The best way to avoid all this is to let the FBI conduct an investigation before proceeding. If the FBI can track down the other people at the party and confirm that Kavanaugh was not present, that will be the end of the story.
As a pro-choice woman, I certainly worry about how Kavanaugh, a Catholic conservative, would rule on reproductive rights. But there is really no doubt that he has the intellectual heft to be on the Supreme Court. And before Ford came along, no one had questioned his character either. He has a reputation for being a champion of women, mentoring and nurturing aspiring female lawyers. There is no pattern of misconduct and there are no other accusers.
An FBI inquiry may be an excellent opportunity for Kavanaugh to cement his stellar reputation without partisan mud-slinging at Ford. And it will be good for Republicans too.