jeff flake

Jeff Flake Just Used Christine Ford As a Political Prop

An aptly named man. Photo: C-SPAN

Late Wednesday morning, Julie Swetnick, a decorated employee of the federal government, claimed that she had witnessed Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge sexually assaulting women at house parties in the early 1980s. In a sworn declaration, Swetnick further suggested that at such parties Kavanaugh and Judge regularly participated in gang rapes of inebriated young women.

Swetnick’s incendiary allegations have yet to be corroborated. But Mark Judge’s ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Rasor, had previously told the The New Yorker that “Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman.” And, earlier this week, the documentary filmmaker Alexandra Lescaze — who attended a D.C. private school in the early 1980s (and thus, moved in similar circles as Judge and Kavanaugh) — wrote in Slate that gang rapes of drunk women were a regular occurrence at parties in that era.

If Swetnick fabricated the allegations in her sworn affidavit, she could be found guilty of perjury. As a government employee, who requires an active security clearance to perform her work, a perjury conviction could end her career. If she is inventing stories for attention or partisan gain, she’s taking an awfully big risk to do so.

All of which is to say: There is no basis for treating Swetnick’s story as unbelievable on its face. If the Senate Judiciary Committee is sincerely interested in assessing the veracity of Christine Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh — which is, ostensibly, the purpose of tomorrow’s hearing — then it must seek testimony from both Swetnick and Mark Judge. After all, Ford alleges that Judge was an eyewitness to her assault — and Swetnick claims to have witnessed Judge and Kavanaugh assaulting other women in a similar manner.

So, when Jeff Flake announced early Wednesday afternoon that he intended to deliver remarks about Thursday’s hearing from the Senate floor, many suspected that he would call for such testimony — or, at least, for the committee to postpone its vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination until it could assess the validity of Swetnick’s claims.

But Flake did neither of those things. Instead, he called on his colleagues “to seek the truth, in good faith” — while actively abetting their efforts to avoid doing so.

Flake argued that his committee could not in good conscience proceed to a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination without allowing Christine Ford to have her voice heard, and her claims, fully aired:

When Dr. Ford came forward, I felt strongly that her voice needed to be heard, and that is why I informed Chairman Grassley that the Judiciary Committee could not and should not proceed to vote until she had the opportunity to make her voice heard, until such time that her claims were fully aired and carefully considered, her credibility gauged. This is a lifetime appointment. This is said to be a deliberative body. In the interest of due diligence and fairness, it seemed to me to be the only thing to do.

And yet, for some unexplained reason, Flake does not believe that due diligence and fairness requires the Senate to hear from Deborah Ramirez or Julie Swetnick.

The senator scolded his colleagues for prejudging the veracity of Ford’s allegations, instead of listening to her story with an open mind — and then immediately implied that Swetnick’s allegation was unbelievable on its face:

Tomorrow, we have a hearing. Many members of this body, from both parties, have already made up their minds, on the record, in advance of this hearing. They will presumably hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. One is tempted to ask, why even bother to have a hearing?

… What I do know is that I don’t believe that Dr. Ford is part of some kind of vast conspiracy from start to finish to smear Judge Kavanaugh, as has been alleged by some on the right.

And what I do know is that I don’t believe that Judge Kavanaugh is some kind of serial sexual predator, as has been alleged by some on the left. [my emphasis]

(Swetnick’s sworn declaration claims that Kavanaugh was once a serial sexual predator. On what basis does Flake “know” that he is not?)

The senator acknowledged that it would be virtually impossible for him to ascertain the truth of Ford’s allegation, on the basis of a he-said-she-said hearing with no third-party witnesses:

I do not know how I will assess the credibility of these witnesses – these human beings – on the grave matters that will be testified to, because I have not yet heard a word of their testimony, and because I am not psychic. I am not gifted with clairvoyance… I hope that tomorrow’s hearing gives us some guidance on how we vote. But those of us on the Committee have to be prepared for the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that there will be no definitive answers to the very large questions before us. In legal terms, the outcome might not be dispositive.

And yet, Flake refuses to block a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination (something he has already demonstrated that he has the power to do) until the Judiciary Committee subpoenas testimony from Judge, Ramirez, Swetnick, and any other relevant witnesses (including ones who swear by Kavanaugh’s version of events).

Early in his address, Flake reminded his colleagues that Kavanaugh and Ford were human beings, not mere “props for us to make our political points.” But that is precisely how he used them. He might not have cast them as villains in a piece of partisan agitprop — but he did use them as props in his hollow performance of moral courage.

For all its verbosity, the substance of Flake’s speech was simple: Hours after a new, credible allegation of sexual misconduct was brought to public attention, Flake announced that he was not willing to delay his committee’s scheduled vote to hear from her (as he had previously done to accommodate Ford); in fact, the Arizona senator wasn’t even willing to acknowledge the new accuser’s existence.

There is no high-minded, nonpartisan reason for Flake’s decision. There is no law barring the Senate from extending Kavanaugh’s confirmation process for another few weeks, so that all of the allegations against him can be thoroughly investigated. The sole reason why Senate Republicans are treating Friday as an inviolable deadline for the committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination is that they’re worried they might lose the Senate this fall — and thus, could conceivably forfeit the opportunity to appoint a far-right justice to an open court seat if Kavanaugh’s nomination goes down in flames one month from now.

It is understandable that Jeff Flake has decided to prioritize advancing his ideological goals over making a good-faith effort to ascertain the truth about Brett Kavanaugh. But he shouldn’t ask us to applaud his high-minded post-partisanship while doing so.

Jeff Flake Just Used Christine Ford As a Political Prop