A Ready Willingness to Lie

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the court left by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America

We now have a flurry of different accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. They range from highly detailed accusations to one which is fragmentary even in the recollection of the alleged victim. But there’s something else that has grabbed my attention repeatedly in the last forty-eight hours. It is inherently difficult to reconstruct things that happened decades ago. But in the course of reacting to these different accusations, Kavanaugh has repeatedly lied in the present. If these allegations are true – and I believe they are – then Kavanaugh is lying in denying them. But it’s not even those lies which really jump out to me. Kavanaugh has told a series of other lies that are really clear cut and demonstrable.

The biggest one is this. What’s become clear over the last week is that Kavanaugh was a big drinker in high school and college. He was also a belligerent and aggressive drunk. Yet he has presented himself as a school focused church going kid who was a bit of a choir boy. These differing accounts here are hard to press down to specifics. He doesn’t say he never drank. He doesn’t say he never went to parties. But lots of people who knew him say he was a hard partying kid who frequently drank to excess and was a belligerent drunk. He denies that. He’s lying. That’s not a worse lie than lying about sexual misconduct or assault. But it’s crystal clear. There aren’t three witnesses. There seem to be dozens. It’s okay to be a hard partying kid. It’s certainly not something that precludes you from later government service. But he’s clearly lying about it as part of his defense against these vastly more serious allegations.

Then there’s the “Renate Alumni” issue. Have you heard about this? Kavanaugh and his friends were in the same social set as a woman named Renate Schroeder, now Renate Dolphin. In Kavanaugh’s and his friends’ yearbook pages they make various references to being members of the “Renate alumni” or being a “Renate Alumnus” or the various other permutations. One guy in his group included this poem: “You need a date / and it’s getting late / so don’t hesitate / to call Renate.” Read the article about it in the Times. We don’t know precisely what Dolphin’s relationship was with these guys. But it’s obvious that this was some kind of nasty denigrating behavior, some form of what we’d now call ‘slut-shaming’. Again, we don’t know the details. It’s just as likely she turned all of them down and that this kind of sex-shaming was payback. But it’s really obvious what this was – topline references to what was clearly an ugly story, one focused on denigrating her for purportedly being ‘easy’.

The most poignant part of the story is that Dolphin actually signed that letter from all the women who knew Kavanaugh in High School. She went to a different school. So for decades she’d never known about this. She only learned about it when reporters brought it to her attention. “I learned about these yearbook pages only a few days ago,” she told the Times. “I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way. I will have no further comment.”

To be clear, we don’t know that anything illegal happened. We don’t know there was any misconduct in the sense of assault or unwanted physical contact. And there are lots of people in their 50s now who did things in high school they would now recognize as cruel and awful.

So what’s Kavanaugh’s response? He says it was just a token of his admiration for her.

Alexandra Walsh, a lawyer for Judge Kavanaugh, said in a statement: “Judge Kavanaugh was friends with Renate Dolphin in high school. He admired her very much then, and he admires her to this day.

“Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Dolphin attended one high school event together and shared a brief kiss good night following that event,” the statement continued. “They had no other such encounter. The language from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook refers to the fact that he and Ms. Dolphin attended that one high school event together and nothing else.”

This is obviously bullshit. Obviously.

Now, you could say that from Kavanaugh’s perspective, if he’s defending himself against charges of attempted rape, it’s not easy for him to admit to what was clearly some kind of nasty sexualized bullying. But prospective Justices shouldn’t casually lie. They shouldn’t casually lie in cases where it is crystal clear they’re lying – even if it’s a situation where telling the truth would be unhelpful.

This comes well after what we learned before the sexual misconduct allegations even emerged. We learned during the hearings proper that Kavanaugh had repeatedly lied, repeatedly perjured himself, about his connection to the Manny Miranda email hacking scandal during the Bush years. It doesn’t seem like he was a culprit. It’s even possible, though I think unlikely, that he didn’t know at the time that he was receiving information from stolen emails. But after it did become clear he lied about it repeatedly. None of these lies in themselves are as serious as the allegations against him, certainly with the new allegations today. But these lies are in the present. They are in many cases clearly refuted by evidence we can see with our own eyes – today evidence, not accounts from decades earlier. This suggests a casual willingness to lie which is utterly incompatible with sitting on the Supreme Court. It also makes his denials of the much more serious charges basically meaningless.

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