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Senate should get to the bottom of Kavanaugh allegations

September 17, 2018

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has run into serious trouble that cannot be brushed aside by a Senate Judiciary Committee that so far has treated every obstacle as a mere speed bump in its headlong rush to confirmation.

Kavanaugh stands credibly accused of sexually forcing himself, as a 17-year-old, on a 15-year-old girl when the two were at a party. The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is now a 51-year-old psychology researcher and professor. She submitted a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., describing the incident; had earlier told her husband about the incident; sought medical attention for it, and has taken a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent. Feinstein referred the letter to the FBI.

That is not conclusive proof. But it is troubling enough that the Senate committee should want to see the outcome of such an investigation and have the opportunity to question both individuals under oath.

The allegation, however old, is a disturbing one. Ford said a stumbling drunk Kavanaugh forced himself atop her, tried to take off her clothes and kept a hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming and alerting others. Needless to say, that is not standard conduct for teenage boys, drunk or not.

Under current laws, a young man accused of attempted rape of a minor might be tried and, if found guilty, be required to register as a sexual predator. Ford was affected enough by the alleged incident throughout her life to discuss it with her husband and a therapist. Kavanaugh, for his part, issued a statement on Monday calling Fords claims a completely false allegation. Someone in this scenario is lying, and the Judiciary Committee now has the unenviable but critical task of determining the truth.

The Editorial Board has already rendered judgment on Kavanaughs nomination, rejecting it in large measure because of his overly expansive and largely unexplained views of presidential power (Kavanaughs dodge on executive power, Sept. 16). Documents detailing his political years in the George W. Bush White House have remained hidden even from members of the committee while others have been withheld from the public.

At 53, Kavanaugh could serve for decades. The Senate committee must look beyond partisanship here. Thankfully, the calls from Republican senators to delay the vote and seek testimony are growing, led by Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine. However, unwilling to allow even this latest development to impede a vote, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who leads the committee, has sought merely to arrange follow-up phone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford.

That wont do. Kavanaugh and Ford should testify under oath, and in full public view. The committee should also seek a fuller understanding beyond what is bound to be conflicting testimony. One must question, for instance, how a letter from 65 women claiming to have known Kavanaugh since high school, and attesting to his treatment of women, came to be assembled and placed in Grassleys hands just one day after the news broke, before Ford had even been identified.

Grassley has imposed a deadline of getting Kavanaugh confirmed before the October start of the courts session (and, not incidentally, before the crucial midterm November elections). But in reality there is no formal deadline, no reason to rush to judgment. The court has functioned with eight justices before, as it did in the long months after Justice Antonin Scalias death, when a Republican majority shunned President Barack Obamas pick and waited out the remainder of Obamas term.

Kavanaugh and Ford have indicated their willingness to testify. There is no plausible reason for the committee to deny them that opportunity.

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