sexual assault

What We Learned From the New Book on Brett Kavanaugh and His Accusers

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary committee last September regarding the allegations of sexual assault made against him. Photo: Erin Schaff/Getty Images

In 2018, Brett Kavanaugh nearly derailed his own confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not long after Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination, the public soon learned that the would-be justice hid a sordid history of youthful, alcohol-soaked behavior. Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto-based psychology professor, credibly accused Kavanaugh of holding her down on a bed and attempting to rape her while they were both in high school. Later, Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale University with Kavanaugh, told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh had exposed his penis to her at a party. Despite their claims, Kavanaugh’s hostility to the Senate Judiciary Committee and inconsistencies in his testimony, the Senate voted to confirm him to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Ramirez, it turns out, may not have been the only Yale student to get an unwanted look at the justice’s penis. In an excerpt from their new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly reveal that in a letter to the FBI, attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford said that they’d become aware of another incident involving a woman named Tracy Harmon Joyce. (New York Magazine obtained an early copy of the book.) Harmon Joyce attended Yale at the same time as Kavanaugh, and the reporters describe her as a “close friend” of Ramirez. In the letter, Ford’s attorneys said the justice “exposed himself” to Harmon Joyce, then “forced her to touch his penis,” Ford’s attorneys wrote, and added that witnesses who were present would be contacting the FBI with their accounts. Pogrebin and Kelly write that it’s “not clear” how Ford’s attorneys learned of Harmon Joyce, but they also report that Max Stier, Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate and the founding president of the Partnership for Public Service, “provided the same report to legislators,” though he did not discuss it with the press, and the FBI never followed up on the tip. The reporters also add that another, unnamed Yale student said that they’d heard Harmon Joyce had transferred residential colleges “because of Kavanaugh, though exactly why was unclear.”

Harmon Joyce did not discuss the alleged incident with Pogrebin and Kelly, though the reporters write that “several” of her friends say that she does not remember the incident in question. Trump and right-wing commentator Mollie Hemingway, who recently published her own take on the Kavanaugh confirmation, have seized on the latter detail as evidence that Kavanaugh is innocent of further misconduct. In reality, matters are a bit more complicated. In a written statement, Harmon Joyce described Ramirez as a person of “integrity and character” who is “honest to a fault,” which doesn’t exactly weaken the case against Kavanaugh.

That isn’t the only new detail to emerge from Pogrebin and Kelly’s book. Their reporting lends credence to many of the most serious concerns raised about Kavanaugh’s suitability to serve a lifetime term on the nation’s highest court.

At the time of the Kavanaugh incident, Deborah Ramirez told her mother that “something happened” at Yale

Pogrebin and Kelly write that Ramirez felt out of place at Yale. She came from a working class background, and her new classmates frequently picked on her because of her Puerto Rican heritage. When Kavanaugh put his penis in her face, she told the reporters, it wasn’t just a violation. It was confirmation that she didn’t belong in the tony Ivy League. Her mother, Mary Ann LeBlanc, says that at the time of the incident, Ramirez met her in a restaurant, crying. Ramirez didn’t disclose the full extent of the incident; according to LeBlanc, all Ramirez could manage is that “something bad” had happened to her at Yale. Other Yale classmates confirmed that they had either witnessed the incident or heard about it directly afterwards. One, Kenneth Appold, told the reporters that according to the version he heard, Kavanaugh promptly tried to expose himself again after Ramirez pushed his penis away. Appold had previously spoken to the New Yorker about portions of the incident.

There are new details about the night of Christine Blasey Ford’s alleged attack

Pogrebin and Kelly interviewed Blasey Ford for the book. Though Blasey Ford can’t recall the specific location of the house, her account of the assault remains clear and detailed. The house had two stories, she said, but it didn’t have much furniture, or seem like anyone really lived in it. Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, seemed “nervous.” When she tried to use an upstairs bathroom, someone pushed her into a bedroom; the book doesn’t specify who did it. But Kavanaugh and Judge were in the room, and they locked the door behind them. We already know what happened next, in painful detail, because Blasey Ford already told us about it. But there’s a new detail. When she got home from the party, after escaping Kavanaugh and Judge, she found that her father was awake. Too afraid to tell him what it had happened, she snuck past him to get to her bedroom.

Afterwards, she spiralled. Her grades suffered. Her relationships suffered. Later, she moved to California, and never lived on the East Coast full-time again.

Interview with Leland Keyser, who dated Mark Judge

At the time of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Blasey-Ford had identified Keyser as a high school friend who was present at the fateful party. Keyser told the Judiciary Committee that she recalled neither the party or Kavanaugh, though she believed Ford. Keyser told the reporters that she still believes that “something” traumatic happened to Ford, just that Kavanaugh wasn’t responsible. But Keyser may now embrace her role as a hero to the right-wing. The reporters note that Keyser kept a framed copy of a National Review article in a bathroom. Its headline: “Was Leland Keyser The Hero of the Kavanaugh Controversy?”

Ford had some support in Silicon Valley

The Chevy Chase crowd may have closed ranks around Kavanaugh, but Ford wasn’t entirely friendless. Pogrebin and Kelly report that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, had recommended a list of attorneys to Ford. Later, when Ford and her friends traveled to Washington D.C., Mark Pincus, the founder of Zynga, and Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, allowed Ford and her friends to use their private plane. “We believed then, as we do now, that is important to take seriously accusations of violence against women,” Hoffman told the reporters.

What We Learned From the New Book on Kavanaugh’s Accusers