The already-fragile Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh took another turn for the worse with fresh allegations that he and his wingman Mark Judge witnessed and might have even participated in gang rapes during drunken high-school parties. The accuser, Julie Swetnick, also says she was herself gang-raped at one of those parties, and that Kavanaugh and Judge were present at the scene of that particular crime.
This is obviously not part of the GOP script for the week, and both Republican senators and Kavanaugh’s conservative media supporters have scrambled to react to — or ignore — the new allegations. A very common approach quickly modeled by the president of the United States focused not on Swetnick but on the attorney who brought forward her accusations, Trump tormenter Michael Avenatti.
Similarly, Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham isn’t giving credence to anything coming from Avenatti, a possible 2020 presidential candidate and the attorney for Trump accuser Stormy Daniels:
Other conservatives have followed Kavanaugh’s own approach of arguing that the new allegations are literally “unbelievable,” and part of an orchestrated smear (or as Trump put it yesterday, “c-o-n”) of a Supreme Court nominee on the brink of confirmation. Erick Erickson’s attack on Swetnick’s credibility is typical:
Some Republican senators seem to be acting as though the new allegations didn’t exist. Jeff Flake, another Judiciary Committee member, who unlike Graham is not an announced supporter of Kavanaugh, spoke on the Senate floor about the status of the confirmation fight and did not even mention Swetnick’s claims.
And still others seem unable to reconsider the original game plan. Susan Collins, very much a key swing senator on Kavanaugh, told Politico she took the new allegations “very seriously.” But then she also said: “The hearing should go forward tomorrow because we’ll find out valuable information.” More irritably, the No. 2 Republican on the Judiciary Committee and in the Senate, John Cornyn, willed it all away:
“These most recent allegations don’t have anything to do with Dr. Ford,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “My view is, the longer this nomination strings out the more you’re going to get more reckless allegations that have no basis in fact.”
The man with the plan, Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, has let it be known that he and his staff are looking at Swetnick’s affadavit. But they are also putting out a tentative schedule for the hearing which appears to be entirely based on the situation as it existed yesterday:
If, as appears likely, Judiciary Committee Republicans and their peers outside the committee choose to make the hearing strictly about the Ford allegations, they can probably expect Democrats to conduct an expanded and perhaps even louder version of their protests over procedural issues at the original hearings. They will almost certainly make sure the many millions of viewers are aware there are other women out there wanting to challenge Kavanaugh’s self-portrayal as a friend and champion of women —who are being shut out and shut down by the Republicans running the show.
In retrospect, Republicans may have blundered by agreeing to this hearing, which makes it difficult to limit its scope to one accuser. But with Republican senators like Flake, Collins and Murkowski insisting on it, they had little choice. At this point, however, the perception that they are rushing Kavanaugh through won’t be dispelled until all the serious allegations against him have been addressed. Once tomorrow’s hearing is over, Grassley and the Senate GOP leadership will get together to assess what happened and decide whether to quickly proceed to a committee and a Senate vote (which could happen as quickly as this Saturday). That will be too early for any careful assessment of the full range of claims about Brett Kavanaugh — but not a moment too soon for conservatives who want to stop the “smears” and get this man onto the Supreme Court immediately.